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Tag:Lamar Odom
Posted on: December 25, 2011 2:44 pm
 

The 2012 Hornets and How to Win Long Term

The 2008 New Orleans Hornets won 56 games, boasted one of the strongest young cores in the NBA, and came within a game of the Western Conference Finals.  They won often, fortified the presence of professional basketball in New Orleans, and, given the right moves, were on the verge of vaulting into a multi-year championship window.

Two years on, not a single member of that team is still a Hornet.  In fact, only one member of the 2010 side (Emeka Okafor) is still on the team in December 2011.  Rebuilding efforts are obviously common around the league, but 100% turnover in a two season span?  93% turnover over a one year stretch?  Not so much.  The Hornets tossed away their future core (Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton) in an effort to keep their then current core (Chris Paul, David West), a move, which despite its ultimate failure due to a number of reasons, is still vaguely defensible.  In between, the team also happened to pick up a new "owner", a new coach, and a new GM (and arguably two new GMs).

And now, on the start of this, the 24th season in the history of the franchise, we're face to face with a roster about as unfamiliar as the one that represented Charlotte on November 4th, 1988.  What does it all mean?  What will this team look like this year?  In 3 years?  In 5 years?

The Goal

The goal is to win an NBA championship.

Its obviousness might make it a rather inane point.  But the circus that was New Orleans' offseason, the uncertainty that surrounds the purchase 10,000 fans made in the last five months, and the prospect of the first superstar-less season for the Hornets in seven years, makes it easy, and even justifiable, to forget this.  Do they desperately need team ownership resolved?  Absolutely.  They need a real owner, they need a new lease on the New Orleans Arena, and they need the NBA-generated fan and corporate momentum to endure.  On the court though, the goal, as ridiculous or as remote as it may now look, remains the same - the eventual goal is to win an NBA championship.

Let's go a step further and quantify that - how close did the Hornets actually get with Chris Paul, and how far does the team now have to go without him?

NBA Finalists from 2002-2011 (Efficiency Differential)

2011 Dallas Mavericks (+4.7)
2011 Miami Heat (+8.2)
2010 Los Angeles Lakers (+5.1)
2010 Boston Celtics (+3.9)
2009 Los Angeles Lakers (+8.1)
2009 Orlando Magic (+7.3)
2008 Boston Celtics (+11.3)
2008 Los Angeles Lakers (+7.5)
2007 San Antonio Spurs (+9.3)
2007 Cleveland Cavaliers (+4.2)
2006 Miami Heat (+4.2)
2006 Dallas Mavericks (+6.8)
2005 San Antonio Spurs (+8.7)
2005 Detroit Pistons (+4.4)
2004 Detroit Pistons (+6.6)
2004 Los Angeles Lakers (+4.2)
2003 San Antonio Spurs (+5.9)
2003 New Jersey Nets (+5.7)
2002 Los Angeles Lakers (+7.7)
2002 New Jersey Nets (+4.5)

Here, "efficiency differential" refers to the difference between a team's offensive points/100 possessions and defensive points/100 possessions.  It's semantics, but this is also the same thing as the sum of how far from league average a team's offense is and how far from league average the same team's defense is.

Over the last decade, the above list shakes out to an average around +6 offensive points per 100 possessions minus defensive points per 100 possessions.  Efficiency differential varies from point differential by removing team pace from the equation.  Between two teams with identical efficiency differentials, the team with the faster pace will artificially have the higher point differential.

There's yearly variation based on conference strength, "weaker" teams breaking through, etc.  But ultimately, if you get to the +6 differential plateau, you're championship material.  You obviously don't have to get there; things like tons of prior playoff experience (2011 Dallas, 2010 Boston) play a role.  How you get there doesn't really matter either - you can play exceptional defense and mediocre offense (2004 Detroit), exceptional offense and bad defense (2001 Los Angeles), or mix and match between the two (2006 Miami).  But ultimately, +6 is a sign of a contending team.  It doesn't guarantee a title or even a Finals appearance.  But it guarantees a team that has a damn good chance.

+6 is the goal we now build towards. For the next few years, +6 needs to become the mantra.

How Close Were the Hornets with Chris Paul?

In hindsight, the Chris Paul years were amazing; as Hornets fans we were phenomenally lucky to have him, and he'll forever be a part of our history.  Due to injuries, poor roster construction, bad luck, and poor foresight, the Chris Paul years are now over.  But, based on the +6 paradigm, how close did the team actually get?

Chris Paul Era, Sorted by Efficiency Differential

2007-2008 (+5.8)
2008-2009 (+1.7)
2010-2011 (+1.0)
2006-2007 (-1.7)
2009-2010 (-2.7)
2005-2006 (-3.1)

The efficiency differential of 2007-2008 gives credence to the idea that that particular team was a piece or two away from greatness (<insert James Posey joke>).  It's also very clear from the rest of those numbers that in Chris Paul's six year stay, the Hornets had just one team that even remotely looked like it could do much.  For all of Paul's greatness, his supporting casts were just never that good.

By definition, league average efficiency differential is 0.  With Chris Paul, the Hornets finished below league average three times, and above it three times; yes, +6 was nearly achieved once, and yes, with a new owner and new management, the future perhaps looked like brightening.  But looking at it from Chris Paul's perspective, I think it's completely reasonable he decided he wanted out and, specifically, wanted out to a championship contender.  Are the Clippers that?  It remains to be seen, but their current setup would certainly appear to be better than the Hornets' 2005-2011.

We can break down Chris Paul's own individual numbers here too (and this will provide a good reference point for the Eric Gordon discussion, next).

During the 2007-2008 regular season, Paul used approximately 1450 offensive possessions, producing 1.25 points per possession (derived from his offensive efficiency (ORtg) of 125, including points and created shots for teammates).  The average points per possession value in the NBA was 1.075 that year and generally hovers around that mark.  So Paul produced, offensively, 0.175 more points per possession than the average NBA player.

Let's transfer that over to the original scale we were discussing - the one in which the concept of "+6" exists.  Over 100 possessions, that's a +17.5 differential above league average.  To make another very obvious statement - Chris Paul was amazingly, amazingly good at basketball in 2007-2008.

Some more simple math at this juncture:

The Hornets had about 7372 offensive possessions in 2007-2008.  20% of those ended with a Chris Paul shot, free throw, turnover, or assist, and of those 20%, the Hornets had the aforementioned +17.5 differential.  Keep in mind that we're talking only offense here.  +6 can be achieved through any combination of offense and defense; it could be +3 offense above the league average offense and +3 defense above the league average defense, +7 offense and -1 defense, or +0 offense and +6 defense, and so forth.

By using 20% of possessions at a +17.5 clip, Paul contributed a net +3.5 differential to the team; in other words, Paul's offense alone in 2007-2008 took the team more than halfway to championship contention status.

Now let's say we know we have a +3 defense (or +3 above the league average defense), and we needed the team to be +3 on offense (or +3 above the league average offense) to reach +6.  We know Paul used 20% of possessions at +17.5; we can then find out what the remaining 80% of possessions need to be, efficiency wise, to reach the mark.  In this case, with 20% of possessions at +17.5, the remaining 80% would need to be converted at a -0.625 differential (or close to league average of 0) in order to have a highly functional +3 offense.

In reality, the 2007-2008 Hornets actually finished at a +4 on offense, buoyed by strong contributions from David West and Tyson Chandler.  The Byron Scott-led defense finished at a +1.8 differential, the 7th best mark in the league.

Chris Paul's offensive involvement declined tremendously in 2010-2011, post-surgery.  However, the main drop-off in his offense came not in his points/possession (which dropped from 1.25 in 2008 to 1.22), but rather, the total number of possessions used.  He used approximately 1450 in 2008, 1500 in 2009, but only about 1100 last year.

1100 possession was only 15% of the team's total, as opposed to the 20% figure of 2007-2008.  As a result, the burden of achieving a higher positive offensive differential shifted to other players on the roster.  By eschewing the ball as much as he did, Paul forced unfathomably worse offensive players (Willie Green and Trevor Ariza come to mind) into using more possessions at terrible differentials.  The passive Chris Paul disappeared in the playoffs of course, replaced by the amazing Chris Paul of old.  But his possession drop-off in 2011 is still worth remembering nonetheless.

In 2007-2008, the rest of the roster required just that -0.625 offensive differential amongst themselves to get halfway to the +6 mark.  In 2010-2011, that number jumped all the way to 1.6 due to Paul's passivity.

Where are the Hornets now?

Most statistical projections will have the Hornets floundering around the bottom of the Conference this year, in line to pick up an excellent lottery choice in the 2012 draft. To the "eye test," that may or may not be a reasonable assessment; because nobody's seen this team really play together, the "eye test" is a tough one to refute, whatever its conclusions.  So let's dig a little deeper than that. 

The Eric Gordon Effect

Of the current roster, Eric Gordon is far and away the most likely player to still be present on the next contender that New Orleans puts together.  Rosters don't remain static, especially when they're headed by a GM as active as Dell Demps; Gordon, barring complications with his rookie contract extension, is far too talented to be moved before the team has a chance to build around him.

Gordon has a chance to develop into a superstar player, though for now, his impact is obviously significantly less than that of Paul's.

Last year, Gordon produced 1.12 points per possession, using 1082 possessions.  That's an offensive differential of 4.7 above league average, obviously a far, far cry from Chris Paul's 17.5 of 2007-2008.  That's the difference between a sure-fire Hall of Famer and a player gunning for a future All-Star berth.

Gordon only played 56 games last year, so if we propagate Gordon's usage through a full year (an exercise which obviously raises questions of its own, namely can Gordon be this good over an entire season?), Gordon would have used about 20% of the Clippers' total possessions last year.  Bringing back the +3 offensive differential above average goal once more, that would require the rest of his teammates to be +2.6 above average on offense through the rest of their possessions - obviously a huge ask.  Where Paul's 2007-2008 season saw him add +3.5 to the +6 goal by himself offensively, Gordon's 2010-2011, if we projected it out to 82 games, would add about +1.0.

The fact is, the next iteration of the Hornets will need to be a far more balanced offensive side than the teams we saw during the Chris Paul era in order to have success.

The Monty Williams Effect

You'll notice that to this point, any discussion of defense has been completely excluded.  Paul was a great defender; so is Eric Gordon.  There's probably an interesting debate to be had about the relative merits of each as a team's primary perimeter defender.  But the more instructive discussion here is probably a more overarching one - a look at how the Hornets played defense as a team in 2010-2011 and what that means going forward.

In Year 1, Monty Williams had his team playing top-5 level defense for large stretches of the season.  Various injuries to Paul, Emeka Okafor, and others eventually pushed the Hornets down to the 10th best defensive team in the league.  But Williams clearly has an exceptional understanding of how to funnel playmakers towards defensive help; that, perhaps more than anything, was his biggest strength as a coach in 2011.  We saw Emeka Okafor become a strong defensive anchor in the paint as Ariza and Paul systematically fed him offensive players on their own terms, and Williams' frequent use of zone defense was another component of this defensive style.

The Hornets finished last year with a +2.1 defensive differential above league average (using "positive" as a plus here, and "negative" as a bad sign, though that's obviously flipped in terms of the scoreboard) despite a tremendous amount of roster shuffling, a season ending injury to a critical big, and the presence of a very poor defender (Marco Belinelli) in the starting five.

The big questions for the Hornets defensively in 2011-2012 will come at point guard (Jarrett Jack) and power forward (Carl Landry).  However, the team makes a huge defensive upgrade at the 2-guard.  The Chris Paul-Jarrett Jack combination was the Hornets' most successful backcourt last year (by point differential) in part due to Belinelli's shortcomings at the position.  Obviously, Ariza and Okafor return to the roster.  It's not inconceivable at all for the Hornets to finish in the top 15 of defensive efficiency this season.  Even if the offensive talent isn't there, Monty Williams will have his players defending on every possession.

A defensive differential ranging between 0 and +1 to +1.5 isn't at all unreasonable to expect this year.

More importantly, Monty Williams' defensive abilities are very important going forward, especially in light of the +6 goal.  The 2012 draft is absolutely loaded with defensive talent.  Our plus defense will ostensibly allow us to inch further up the positive point differential without requiring as much offensive talent.  So in that sense, even the most die-hard "tank" advocate should be rooting as hard as possible for the Hornets' defense this season.  Sure, we may be getting new players in the near future, but the value of the fundamental defensive base everything is built around will become more clear over the next 66 games regardless.

The team

I won't go too heavily into analyzing each individual player - just my quick notes on them and my projection, based on past value and current role.

Additionally, this is an offensive look at the roster; as noted above, I expect the defensive side of the ball to shake out somewhere between a +1 and 0 differential.

Jarrett Jack

Jack struggled tremendously in his first month as a Hornets, but eventually began to rebound.  It's key to note that Jack has been an NBA starter in the past, notably starting 43 and 53 games for Toronto and Indiana in 2010 and 2009.  In those seasons, Jack posted offensive efficiencies (points per 100 possessions) of 116 and 107.  With the Hornets, that figure fell to 104 in a backup role.

This year, I see him rebounding at least to league average (~107.5) again.

Projected Possessions Used: 12% (of team)
Projected Differential: 0

Eric Gordon

Gordon's health will be tracked closely; over the last three seasons, Gordon has actually played fewer games than Chris Paul.  The main difference we'll see from 2010 Gordon and 2011 Gordon figures to be overall usage.  Gordon's defense is excellent, and Monty Williams won't have the "Marcus Thornton" problem with him; on the other side of the ball, Monty will have very few creative options - Carl Landry (and Jarrett Jack on a good day) figure to be chief among those.

I conservatively don't see Gordon's overall offensive efficiency increasing too much - he'll be taking on a much bigger possession load, and defensively, opponents can focus in on him every single night without too many repercussions.  Gordon's ORtg was 112 a year ago (a differential of +4.7).  If he'd stayed healthy, he was on pace to use 20% of the Clippers' total offensive possessions.

Projected Possessions Used: 23%
Projected Differential: +5

Trevor Ariza

Oh, Trevor Ariza.  Long one of the league's most underrated players, then perhaps its most overrated, and now, just a depressing one, at least offensively.

Last year, Ariza produced a hilarious -10.3 differential (yes, that is NEGATIVE 10.3).  I don't see it being quite that bad this year, simply because his 2010-2011 was one of the worst offensive showings in the history of the NBA and, happily, doesn't seem that repeatable.  He used just 12% of Hornets' possessions though, a figure which looks to increase without Chris Paul.

Projected Possessions Used: 15%
Projected Differential: -8

Carl Landry

Tooth returns this year, for another year of great PaintShops and, hopefully, a year of shot attempts a bit closer to the hoop.  Landry is easily one of the NBA's best finishers with his array of hesitations and shot fakes so hopefully he'll eschew the midrange game for a more drive-heavy one this year.

In the last three years, his ORtgs have been 110, 117, and 123, with an obvious decline; I think he should be right in the 110 range (+2.5 differential) once more.

Projected Possessions Used: 17%
Projected Differential:+2.5

Emeka Okafor

There's been some discussion about who the starter will be at the 5; I think Okafor will almost definitely take it due to his defensive impact.  Despite the presence of two elite defenders last year in Paul and Ariza, Okafor was still the centerpiece of Monty's D.  Now that he's been stripped of his superstar (and, depending on who you believe, a much better offensive complement of players in Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Lamar Odom), Monty will almost assuredly hang on to the one thing he still has - his defense.  And that still starts and ends with Okafor, no matter his offensive shortcomings.

From a casual observer's perspective, Okafor really did seem to gel with Chris Paul last year on the offensive end; in actuality, his offensive efficiency stayed about the same.  Over the past three years, his ORtgs have gone 112, 110, and 111.  I do see it dropping a bit this year without a real creator at the point guard (Jack will be calling his own number quite frequently one would assume).  Even in 2010, Okafor had Darren Collison setting up shots for him; this year, he won't even have that.  So I'd estimate his ORtg dropping more in line with his career ORtg (107).  Let's call it 108 (+0.5).

Okafor also used 9% of possessions last year, a figure that may slightly drop without Paul and with the addition of Kaman; however, it's already a low total and can't drop much further.

Projected Possessions Used: 8%
Projected Differential: +0.5

The Bench

Between the starters, 75% of the team's offensive possessions figure to be used. This assumes relatively robust use of the starting five, perhaps a safe bet given the composition of the team's second and third units.

Chris Kaman

Kaman's an interesting player in that his offensive game looks relatively polished in a stylistic sense (his jumper and post jukes are all clean).  But he's never been an efficient offensive player in his career.  His career ORtg is a woeful 98, and he hasn't crossed the 100 threshold since 2008.  I simply don't see that changing in New Orleans; he'll be in that 99-100 range again, in addition to some very solid defensive rebounding.

Alongside Aminu and Belinelli, Kaman also figures to be one of the biggest offensive options for the bench.  His possession percentage assumes that he uses more than a quarter of the bench's possessions offensively.

Projected Possessions Used: 6.5%
Projected Differential: -7.5

Al-Farouq Aminu

Aminu's far and away the most difficult player on the team to project.  Everyone else has either been in the league a while or has given us a reasonable expectation level for their future (ie, Pondexter).  Aminu, on the other hand, is still very young (21) and has components to his game that could improve significantly through coaching.

I'll actually go ahead and project Aminu optimistically; he had an awful 94 ORtg last year, but it's quite possible he creeps into the high 90's range, so around a -9 or 10 differential).

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -9.5

Marco Belinelli

As I've noted multiple times, I'm really quite glad the Hornets brought back Belinelli; however, his role is definitely a bench one.  Hopefully we'll get much more flag waving this season regardless.

His ORtg the past three years has been 104, 106, and 107.  Less Chris Paul and less even Jarrett Jack as a "creator" from the bench, a mild decline seems reasonable.

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -2.5

Jason Smith

I observed many times through Wednesday's game that Jason Smith looks like a much improved player and athlete.  Without Paul running the pick and pop with him, Smith's offensive opportunities may be a bit limited, but his value as both a defender and a rebounder looks to be in line to increase.

Smith's career ORtgs have been 101, 101, and 100 (-7.5) and that's not likely to change.  I also don't see him using more than 15% of bench offensive possessions, or about 4% of the team total.

Projected Possessions Used: 4%
Projected Differential:-7.5

The Rest

All in all, that accounts for about 95% of team possessions so far.  The rest will be taken by guys like new signing Gustavo Ayon, Greivis Vasquez (who I haven't really gotten a chance to look at yet becuase he was traded for Quincy Pondexter yesterday), as well as the DLeague guys, like Squeaky Johnson, who may make the final roster.  Let's go ahead and toss that percentage in as well:

Projected Possessions Used: 6%
Projected Differential: -10

It's obviously tough to get a great estimate of their offensive differential; -10 may indeed be a little bit harsh, but it's a small percentage of the overall impact.

Overall

And that now leaves us at 100% of offensive possessions accounted for.

Multiplying and adding it altogether give us a grand total of -1.52 points/100 possessions below league average on offense.  Gordon, Landry, and Okafor play their roles in buoying the figure a little bit, but ultimately, there's one too many minus offensive player on this current roster.

For some perspective, a -1.5 offensive team last year would have been the Toronto Raptors, or Eric Gordon's former team, the Clippers.  Interestingly, last year's Chris Paul led New Orleans Hornets finished about -1 below league average.

That last one is actually pleasantly surprising to me.  Based on my initial eye test of the new roster, one of my first claims here was that the dropoff from Paul to Jack wouldn't be that much different than the upgrade from Belinelli to Gordon, offensively.  And that's borne out by the numbers.

Next, we can take those offensive and defensive projections and take a stab at a record.  Let's go with a defensive differential of +0.5 (again, positive being a good thing).

If the Hornets play at a typical Monty Williams pace (89 possessions/game), they should score 89/100 x (107.5 - 1.52) points per game, or 94.3 and they should allow 89/100 x (107.5 - 0.5) point per game or 95.2.  Using a Pythagorean wins formula (see Basketball on Paper by Dean Oliver), over a 66 game schedule, this should come out to 30.8 wins, which we can round up to 31 wins for a projection - so a record of 31-35.

The Western Conference's 8th place team posted a 56% winning percentage last year, which would be equivalent to a 37-29 record this season.  Overall, the Hornets may well be bit better than many project (John Hollinger has us last in the conference) but will likely fall short of a playoff spot by some distance.

The Future

As it stands now, this is a -1 to -2 efficiency differential team.  The goal is +6, and we've got quite a gap to make up over the next two to four years.  In the interim, we'll have multiple (lottery) draft picks, the development of Eric Gordon into a possible All-Star, and the evolution of Monty Williams' defensive scheme.

Will it be enough?  We shall see.  But we know quantitatively what our eventual goal is, and we know, quantitatively, some of the steps on the way to getting there.  Can Gordon, currently a +1 kind of player, grow into a +2?  Can Monty Williams' defense sustain a +1 efficiency despite the loss of so many components?  If both those things come to fruition, an elite 2012 draft could be what puts the team over the top.

As a fan, it's your right to root for a season of tanking (abject failure is, idiotically, what leads to small market success in the NBA) but there's a lot to look forward to from the 2011-2012 New Orleans Hornets from a basketball perspective as well.

+6, y'all. +6.


Posted on: December 25, 2011 2:40 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 2:41 pm
 

Hornets Sign Gustavo Ayon and What It Means

Opinion on Dell Demps as Hornets' GM, almost out of necessity, has no middle ground.

On the one hand, it's easy to point in hindsight to a number of his moves with a disapproving shake of the head.  The Thornton trade.  The Collison deal.  Even the move for Jarrett Jack.  The failed Lakers deal.  Each compromised the future of the franchise to varying degrees, and each transaction has been attacked many times in both national and local media.  Demps' detractors?  They all have a point.  In an alternative timeline, the Hornets have quite a few more intriguing pieces right now for their current rebuilding project.

On the other hand, the logic behind each move was definitely apparent when the deals went through.  This isn't Otis Smith trading Brandon Bass for Glen Davis territory in the slightest.  Monty Williams should take on a lot of the blame for the Marcus Thornton Affair, and Carl Landry was always going to help the 2011 Hornets more than Marcus Thornton.  Similarly, the old Trevor Ariza was always going to be more impactful on a Chris Paul-led Hornets side than Darren Collison coming off the bench.  Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Lamar Odom would have made for a competitive, exciting team in the short term, something that had to have been on Demps' mind given the state of basketball in New Orleans.  Dell Demps supporters?  They all have a point too - the specter of Chris Paul's departure loomed menacingly over Demps, impacting each of his decisions, and Demps made logical, informed, and highly defensible moves in spite of it.

My aim isn't to settle this debate here, nor do I think there's a meaningful resolution to this at all.  Instead, I call attention to the dichotomy of opinion on Demps to point out one thing we should all agree on - Dell Demps' most promising trait is his relentless, unceasing activity in the front office.  He's on top of every unheralded unsigned player, he's exploring trade possibilities with every member of his roster, and he isn't afraid in the slightest to move immediately when he thinks he has a move.  For a front office that has routinely been lampooned by A. Wojnarowski and Co. for its lack of employees, cubicles, staplers, or whatever else "normal" front offices are equipped with, it comes as a welcome step forward.

The signing of Gustavo Ayon is the latest example of this.

Ayon's a 26 year old power forward/center, hailing from Tepic, Mexico.  He signed on with Division 1 San Jose State in 2006, but instead opted to play professionally in his native Mexico.  After developing as a player and winning multiple league titles from 2006-2009, Ayon opted to head to Europe the next year, joining Spanish side Baloncesto Fuenlabrada.  The Spanish ACB is the best professional league in Europe; edging out Italy and Greece for top honors.

Ayon played a full season of Spanish basketball in 2010-2011, and had played 10 games in the 2011-2012 season before signing with New Orleans. Obviously, I haven't seen him play, but his line this year was about 16 points and 8 rebounds (over 3 offensive) on 66% from the floor and over 80% from the foul line.  Those numbers came in under 29 minutes a game.  It's clear, just from a statistical perspective, that this is a player that can play basketball.  And those that have followed his game extensively?  They're even more effusive in their praise.

Here are some tweets from Draft Express - perhaps the most respected international scouting service in professional basketball right now - last week:

@DraftExpress: In Spain. Arguably most productive player in league. RT @BKoremenos: Where did Gustavo Ayon play before NO nabbed him?
@DraftExpress: 6-10. Plays his ass off. Smart. Rebounds. Tough. Finds ways to score. Teammate. Perfect rotation big.
@DraftExpress: Most of the NBA was quietly tracking Gustavo Ayon. Everyone wanted to keep him a secret, hence the lack of hype/buzz. Clearly a NBA player.
@DraftExpress: Now its official I can finally say: Gustavo Ayon is a STEAL. Smart, tough, active, athletic 4/5. A young Jeff Foster. Well done New Orleans.

That's... a lot of praise.  From the description, is there any question at all that this is the quintessential Monty Williams player?

Dig around a bit more, and you'll find that the Spurs, Lakers, Nuggets, Suns and Pacers all made overtures for his services.  This, according to many analysts, is a guy that could help a good team immediately.  That a projected lottery team was able to pull this deal off?  That tells me a lot.

Whether Ayon will transition smoothly to the NBA remains to be seen, but the fact remains that this is a smart, cheap, resourceful signing regardless of how it all turns out.  You play the odds when you construct a team, and acquiring Ayon is a solid move regardless of the outcome.  The Hornets have reportedly been all over him throughout the lockout and will pay his Spanish side $0.75M to extract him from his contract there.

The Chris Paul section of Demps' tenure finishes to mixed reviews.  There was obviously an argument for going all out and trying to keep Chris Paul in New Orleans long term.  It didn't happen, and because of it, the alternative - keeping some pieces for the future on the roster - looks attractive in hindsight.  Whichever side of the Demps coin you fall on (I've supported every move he's made thus far, aside from Thornton), it's all in the past now.

The future began last week, and Dell Demps is, swift as ever, off to the races.


Posted on: May 30, 2010 10:23 pm
 

Previewing The 2010 NBA Finals

Now that we've sat through, what seems like, a 13 month sabattical to finally get to the NBA Finals, it's here.  After series sweeps and poor basketball, the conference finals finally brought some life that had been missing to the NBA Postseason.  And, honestly, I don't think any basketball fan can be upset with this matchup.  Even though the Lakers and Celtics are matching up for what seems, to us small market teams fans, like the 6,000th time in the NBA Finals, they are genuinely the two best teams at this point and two of the best franchises in the NBA (as evident by their 6,000 matchups).  Both teams have faced adversity, have won with defense, have won with offense, have coaches who have been there and have players who have been there.  This matchup was physical and contested back in 2008 and we can expect the same here.  But how did both teams arrive to this point?

The Boston Celtics entered the 2010 postseason on a really sour note.  As has been documented, the Celtics were 23-5 after Christmas but then went 27-27 over the next 54 games to stumble into the postseason as the 4th seed.  Everything ranging from Doc River's interest in coaching the team to injuries to age had been used as reasons for the Celtics ailments.  But a confrontation between Kevin Garnett and Quentin Richardson in Game 1 of the Heat vs. Celtics series highlighted what was a terrific comeback in Game 1 for Boston and they rode that momentum to a very convincing five game series victory over the Heat.  Next up, the Celtics were matched up against the team that finished with the best record in the NBA and the team that had the two time defending MVP in LeBron James.  Using the same tenacious defense and physical style of play that swarmed fellow NBA great Dwyane Wade, the Celtics contained LeBron as best as any team could possibly do and saw Rajon Rondo step up as the team advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for a rematch with the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year: the Orlando Magic.  Like Wade and LeBron, Orlando had its own superstar in Dwight Howard that posted a huge threat to Boston's quest for a championship.  But showing the stuff that champions are made of, Boston won both Games 1 and 2 in Orlando and held on to eventually eleminate the Magic on the Parquet in Game 6.  The Celtics now enter this postseason looking for their second championship in three years with the starting lineup that Doc Rivers will tell you has never lost a postseason series.

Coming off two Western Conference Championships and after winning their 15th NBA Championship in Franchise History (second only to Boston's 17), the Lakers entered this season as the resounding favorites to repeat; at the very least in the Western Conference.  They seemed to coast through the season on talent alone but still managed to establish home court advantage in the Western Conference.  Being one of the most decorated teams in NBA history, the Lakers faced a polar opposite in the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder, who were the youngest team, collectively, in the NBA.  The Thunder gave the Lakers fits with their athleticism, youthful energy and fantastic home court.  The Lakers faced a challenge many didn't think would come so early, but fought it off and eleminated the Thunder in six games.  Up next was a familiar postseason foe: the Utah Jazz.  The Jazz and Lakers always seem to face eachother in the postseason, and this season the big bodies and matchup advantages that the Lakers possesed  helped history repeat itself, as the Lakers managed to sweep Utah in four games and rest comfortably before a matchup with the rival Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.  Even in a tough matchup with a motivated, game Phoenix Suns team, the Lakers looked like champions throughout the series; winning convincingly in Games 1 and 2 and playing a great game of basketball to close out Game 6 in Phoenix.  The Lakers look to close the gap between them and Boston in terms of the NBA's greatest franchise (17 championships for Boston to 15 for Los Angeles), and Kobe Bryant looks to add a 5th Championship to his storied career and allow for Phil Jackson to collect his 11th. 

How do these teams match up and who has the advantage in what area?  That will now be addressed.
Western Conference Champion: (1) Los Angeles Lakers (57-25; 12-4) vs. Eastern Conference Champion: (4) Boston Celtics (50-32; 12-5)

Why The Lakers Will Win: First and foremost, the Lakers enter this series with the Home Court after finishing the season with a better record than Boston.  Both teams won on the other's court this season and it's well known how the Celtics were able to take that historic Game 4 at Staples back in 2008, but at the end of the day you'd still rather be the team playing its pivotal games at home as opposed to being on the road.  They will still have the best player on the court for the entire series as well in Kobe Bryant.  Bryant has shown as the postseason has continued that he's still, arguably, the best player in the Game.  In a late game situation, there's no better player to give the ball to.  Also, the Lakers have brought in Ron Artest for matchups like this, where they can throw him at Paul Pierce or Ray Allen defensively.  Also, this Lakers team is better equipped to match up with a physical Boston team than the 2008 version of the Lakers.  Now having won a championship as a team and having been battle tested as a team, there won't be any deer in the headlights looks that the Lakers had in 2008.  Also, this is the first series Boston will have where they have to stay in the paint and guard every one of the Lakers big men.  Teams like Cleveland and Miami didn't have the front court depth to give Boston's defense fits whereas the Lakers have the size to cause Boston problems. 

Why The Celtics Will Win: Every bit of experience that the Lakers bring to the table, the Celtics bring as well.  It could be argued that the only reason these teams aren't matching up for a third consecutive Finals is because of the injury to Kevin Garnett last season.  The Celtics have shown the last two rounds that home court can be taken with just one victory on the road and they've shown the ability to do that.  Even though Kobe Bryant is the best closer in the game, the Celtics have a player in Paul Pierce who is very adept in those late game situations as well: as highlighted in his Game 6 performance against Orlando.  Furthermore, this Celtics team is still relatively healthy.  They have problems with Rasheed Wallace's back, but everyone else has managed to stay hungry, motivated and on the court for the entire postseason whereas the Lakers have issues with Andrew Bynum that could hinder one of their on court advantages.  Also, this Celtics team looks motivated and after knocking out three legitimate superstars in Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Dwight Howard, there's nothing that Kobe Bryant can do that would intimidate the Boston Celtics team. 

Key Player for the Lakers: Derek Fisher has managed to step it up offensively when the Lakers have needed him to this postseason, and opposing point guards haven't trashed the Lakers as they did last postseason and all of this season.  However, Rajon Rondo is the most difficult matchup in the series.  Fisher will either have to guard Rondo or Ray Allen (if Phil decides to put Kobe on Rondo), which are both disadvantages for the Lakers.  However, Fisher brings championship intangibles that most teams just can't find and, even just last postseason, Fisher showed that when needed he can still nail the crucial three pointer that can change a series.  If his defense is going to be a problem this series, which looks likely, his offense will be needed to offset whatever disadvantage his guarding Rondo or Ray Allen may create.

Key Player for the Celtics: Rasheed Wallace's back should be better by June 3rd and hopefully that shows in his play.  He looked really bad in Game 6 against Orlando, but if he's able to go for Boston then he makes all the difference in this Finals matchup.  Lamar Odom is one of the toughest matchups in the NBA, but Rasheed Wallace is a player that can keep up with him and guard Odom.  Criticized for his play all year long, Wallace has emerged into an absolutely terrific bench contributor this postseason for Boston and has been extremely important to Boston's ultimate success.  If Bynum, Pau Gasol or Odom have to guard Wallace out on the perimeter, it opens up the door for players like Pierce and Rondo to get to the basket.  If Wallace consistently hits that jump shot, it makes even more of a difference.  All in all, Wallace brings the offensive and defensive intangibles off the bench that can offset whatever bench production the Lakers may or may not get on a nightly basis. 

Prediction: Celtics in six

Key As To Why They Will Win: Honestly, I'm just a believer.  I've picked against Boston all postseason long and, for that reason, Crotch and other Celtics fans probably don't want me to pick them here.  But they've really emerged as the best team in the postseason so far.  They've faced off against the best players in the league and knocked out two terrific, game Cleveland and Orlando teams.  And they did so without home court advantage.  Even though I think the subraction of James Posey this postseason from the 2008 NBA Finals matchup is something that some fans may forget, I truly believe Wallace is going to be a huge difference maker off the bench to combat Lamar Odom and, when it comes down to it, the Celtics have shown that they can win pivotal games in hostile territory.  And they only need to win one in this series.

Conclusion: This series is a toss up and could really go either way.  The two most storied franchises in the league meeting up once again creates for financial interest and also interest from a basketball perspective.  There aren't two teams playing better ball at the moment and that's why they're here.  After seeing Boston guard Dwyane Wade and LeBron James the way they did, you have to imagine there's going to be plans in place as to how to guard Kobe Bryant.  Also, they were able to do it in 2008 and that put a lot of onus on his teammates who just weren't ready for that moment.  They may be ready now, but I'm not sure that they're capable of overcomign what Boston does.  Paul Pierce, in that 2008 matchup, was the first player I've seen in a long time take it at Kobe and dominate him as easily as Kobe can do to other players.  That speaks volumes to his importance in this matchup.  It should be a fun series and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm wrong, but I'm a believer.  Your 2010 NBA Champions will be the Boston Celtics.
Posted on: April 16, 2010 2:05 pm
 

GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview

It's playoff time!  At this point, the stakes are high and offseason paychecks and inseason acquisitions are expected to be rewarded with postseason success and jobs will be secured and won with big playoff appearances.  There are a ton of great matchups and the NBA really got it right with the sixteen teams that made it.  There's not one matchup, maybe outside of Cleveland, that looks like it won't be a fantastic matchup.  But here we go, this is GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview.

Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Chicago Bulls - A really intriquing matchup here.  The Cavs ended this season with the most wins in the league for the second consecutive season.  The Bulls looked dead a few weeks ago, only to experience a resurgence and have straked their way into the postseason.  The Cavs have coasted for awhile now and LeBron James hasn't even played in a couple of weeks.  Likewise, the team will be integrating Shaquille O'Neal back into the lineup after missing two months with a right thumb injury.  The Bulls, though, are experiencing their own bit of inner turmoil after a reported confrontation between head coach Vinny Del Negro and VP of Basketball John Paxson dominated the headlines in Chicago.  The Bulls are playing great basketball, but they don't have the horses to keep up with Cleveland.  The fact that they have a head coach that, in all likelihood, won't be there next season doesn't do much to help the team's psychi.  Derrick Rose will make things interesting, this won't be a sweep, but Cleveland has time to get their players back, figure out their rotation and still win this series.
Predicton: Cavaliers in six.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Shaquille O'Neal - As mentioned earlier, the Cavaliers will be bringing Shaquille O'Neal back to the lineup in this series and his play is vital to the team moving forward.  How effective he is and how he plays will speak volumes about how things will unfold for the team in this series and in future series.  The team has played well without him, but his presence is still necessary down the road.  He must be effective.
Bulls Player to Watch: Kirk Hinrich - With Derrick Rose assuming a lot of responsibility for the team's chances of winning the series, the Bulls will look to Kirk Hinrich to step up and play huge this series.  His defense on Mo Williams will be important but he has to show a more consistent jump shot this series for the Bulls to have a chance to win.  It's not enough for him to just be out there on Williams.  He has to keep the Cavs honest on the offensive end and that will begin and end with him rediscovering his jumpshot.

(4) Boston Celtics. vs. (5) Miami Heat - A tough matchup to predict here.  Both teams have glaring weaknesses and considerable strenghs.  The Celtics have the championship experience from 2008 and say they're healthy for the first time this season.  However, they've really struggled the last two months of the regular season and if they didn't have their name, they'd receive no championship consideration.  Conversely, the Heat struggled earlier this season but, led by Dwyane Wade, the team looks to have its feet back under them.  They took advantage of a significantly easy stretch of games at the end of the season and can carry that momentum forward.  The home court would come into play in a 4/5 matchup, but the Celtics have lost 17 games at home this season.  They've never been more vulnerable.
Prediction: Heat in six
Celtics Player to Watch: Nate Robinson - A lot of the Celtics problems this season have had to do with the team's considerable age and thinning depth.  Robinson can play a huge role off the bench if given the chance and if he were to have a big series, there's no doubt the Cetlics would win.  He's been really inconsistent since going to Boston in February, but if he can find his stroke and some regular playing time, the Celtics will be a formidable team.
Heat Player to Watch: Michael Beasley - Beasley has been so aggravatingly inconsistent this season that a lot of people have just given up on him in Miami.  The Heat need that consistent second option that can help Wade and lead this team to victory.  Not only is Beasley the most talented option for the Heat, he's the only player the Celtics have no immediate answer for.  Paul Pierce will likely be busy with Dwyane Wade, which leads him matched up with the smaller Ray Allen or the slower Kevin Garnett.  If he takes advantage of that, the Heat will win this series.

(3) Atlanta Hawks vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks - Picked by many to be among the worst teams in the league this year, the Milwaukee Bucks surged this season under the guidance of Scott Skiles and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006.  The franchise now has an identity in rookie guard Brandon Jennings and have responded well to added expectations as the season's progressed.  The Hawks, meanwhile, continue to steps towards becoming an elite franchise.  After making the playoffs for the first time in nine years in 2008, they won a playoff series last year and look to expand on that this season.  Their play all year gives no indication that's going to end.  The Bucks are at a huge disadvantage without center Andrew Bogut in the lineup and the team's lack of experience in the postseason together will give them troubles enough.  Skiles will keep his team competitive but it will catch up to them.
Prediction: Hawks in five
Hawks Player to Watch: Al Horford - With Bogut out, Horford will be matched up with the aging Kurt Thomas and the underachieving Dan Gadzuric.  With that kind of advantage inside, Horford can make it easier for the Hawks perimter shooting which will take the Bucks out of any game.
Bucks Player to Watch: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - Most likely will be assigned the dutie of guarding Joe Johnson.  His ability to do this well will allow John Salmons to conserve himself for the offensive end which is where he can really shine for the Bucks.  Considering the Bucks will need any offensive production they can get, it's important for Mbah a Moute to spell Salmons defensively.

(2) Orlando Magic vs. (7) Charlotte Bobcats - For the first time in the franchise's history, the Charlotte Bobcats are in the NBA postseason.  Their reward for making it, a date with the red hot defending Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic.  The Magic boast the league's deepest team top to bottom, but that may not always be a good thing in the postseason.  Coach Stan Van Gundy barely set on a rotation entering the postseason whereas the Bobcats have had to go with the best players available night in and night out.  Both teams have played well down the stretch and both have a ton of momentum heading into the series.  I expect Charlotte to play to its full potential this entire series and push the Magic to the limit.  But I still expect the Magic to advance.
Prediction: Magic in seven
Magic Player to Watch: Rashard Lewis - Always a matchup problem with his size and outside shooting, Gerald Wallace will probably be given the assignment of guarding Lewis which could really negate a lot of double teams down in the post on Dwight Howard.  Lewis has really struggled with his shot all season, but we saw last postseason that if Lewis is hitting his shots, the Magic are almost impossible to defend.
Bobcats Player to Watch: Tyson Chandler - Banged up the entire season, Chandler is the only big man capable of staying in front of Howard one on one defensively and will likely be given that assignment throughout the series.  He will be spelled by other big men on the Charlotte team but he's the best option for them offensively out of that group.  If Chandler has a big series, then the Magic could really be in for a fight.


Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Oklahoma City Thunder - A classic matchup of youth vs. experience here.  The Thunder are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005 (when the team was still in Seattle) and are in the playoffs as the youngest team in the NBA.  Facing them are the defending NBA Champions; who struggled in the last month of the regular season.  The Lakers are banged up across the board and look vulnerable here in the postseason and the Thunder are young, fearless and dynamic across the board.  But what is the Lakers biggest strength, size, is the Thunder's biggest weakness.  Unfortunately, the Thunder are a bit overmatched in their first playoff series going up against the champs.
Prediction: Lakers in six
Lakers Player to Watch: Andrew Bynum - As mentioned earlier, the Lakers biggest strength is their size, but that's only true when Bynum's in the lineup.  Expected to play in the playoffs, Bynum's production will be all gravy for the Lakers as the Thunder have nobody to matchup with him inside.  Coming off an injury, though, he may struggle (as he did last postseason) so his production is still important to the Lakers success.
Thunder Player to Watch: James Harden - If Harden continues to be effective off of the bench for the Thunder, he gives the team what the Lakers don't have, and that's someone over the bench who can take over games offensively.  With Bynum expected to be brought along slowly form his injury, Lamar Odom will get a lot of minutes and that leaves the rest of the bench largely ineffective.  Because of this, Harden alone can make all the difference in the second units which prevent the Lakers from every running away with a game. 

(4) Denver Nuggets vs. (5) Utah Jazz - Two really tough teams to figure out go to battle in this series.  The Nuggets have really struggled ever since George Karl's unfortunate cancer diagnosis back in February and have gone through moments where they looked like the same, immature, selfish Nuggets of years past.  The Jazz have gone through stretches this season where they look great, stretches where they look bad, and stretches where they just look lost.  Add Carlos Boozer to the team's indecisiveness, as he's a game time decision for the playoff opener.  However, I think the Nuggets longer spell of mediocrity is a sign of things to come with Dantley at the helm, and unfortunately they really miss their general.
Prediction: Jazz in six
Nuggets Player to Watch: Kenyon Martin - If he's matched up against Carlos Boozer or Paul Millsap, Martin, still recovering from an injury of his own, will be important to stopping the Jazz pick and roll and containing their best big man.  Martin did fantastic in the playoffs last year and was a huge reason why the team went to the Western Conference Finals.  For them to advance, they need Martin to have a similar impact this season.
Jazz Player to Watch: Mehmet Okur - With Boozer's injury in question, Mehmet Okur's production will be important for the Utah Jazz.  Because Martin will get the assignment down low, Okur will be left alone offensively mainly with Nene guarding him, which gives him a quickness advantage to go along with his lethal shooting ability.  Okur showed last season that he can produce with Boozer out of the lineup, and if he struggles the Jazz will look to him for big buckets.  He's played well during the home stretch of the season, and the Jazz need that to continue into the playoffs.

(3) Phoenix Suns vs. (6) Portland Trail Blazers - Probably the NBA's hottest team, the Phoenix Suns finally look like a formidable team again for the first time in a few seasons.  Now with an added attitude on defense, the Suns look as complete as they ever have since the seven seconds or less days.  Still lethal on offense, the Suns will follow Steve Nash's lead in hopes of taking advantage of a Bradon Roy-less Trail Blazers squad.  Without Roy, the Blazers will look to other players to step up; as they have all season long battling the injuries the team has.  However, they look to be too overmatched against Phoenix at this point in time.
Prediction: Suns in five
Suns Player to Watch: Louis Amundson - With Roy out for the series, LaMarcus Aldridge becomes the only consistent offensive threat for Portland and Phoenix will have a tough time matchup up with him.  Amar'e Stoudemire, even though he's playing fantastic ball of late, is still poor defensively and Robin Lopez's injury limits what the team can do to slow down Aldridge.  Because of this, Lou Amundson's production off of the bench defensively will be counted on in this series.  Anything he can do to rough up Aldridge or limit second chance points will go a long way towards helping the Suns advance.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: Jerryd Bayless - Earlier this season with Roy out, Bayless had the best game of his young career while spelling Roy.  Bayless was a huge prospect when he was drafted by Portland, but has struggled to find his niche yet with the team.  With Roy out again, the onus will be on Bayless to take the responsibility and live up to his lottery selection.  If the Blazers continue to get poor production out of him, this will be a quick series.

(2) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs - Another intriguing matchup, the Mavericks and Spurs face off in a rematch of last year's playoff series, where the Mavericks upset the Spurs in five games.  The Spurs have battled injuries all season long but finally look to have everyone, minus a hobbled George Hill, back for the playoffs.  The Mavericks, meanwhile, made a huge deal at the all star break to acquire Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood in hopes of finally winning that elusive championship.  Division rivals matching up in the postseason always leaves a bit of a mystery as to how the games will play out.  Both teams are stacked top to bottom, but the Spurs are the one team with the size to match up with the Mavericks.  Who on Dallas has an answer for Manu Ginobili?  This should be a fun series but I see the Spurs shocking Dallas in game seven on their home court.
Prediction: Spurs in seven
Mavericks Player to Watch: Jose Juan Barea - Last postseason, J.J. Barea was my player to watch for this series and was a huge difference maker for the Mavericks as the Spurs had no answer for him without Ginobili in the lineup.  Now that the Mavericks have added Butler to the lineup, not a lot is expected out of Barea and I think the lack of pressure will help him.  Along with Jason Terry (who you know will produce), Barea can make the difference in the second unit for Dallas and can really help separate the Mavericks from the Spurs if he plays well. 
Spurs Player to Watch: Matt Bonner - Last season, Bonner was a starter for the Spurs team that fell in five games to the Mavericks as he and Roger Mason Jr. struggled with their shot the whole series and the Spurs just couldn't get production offensively.  Now on the bench, Bonner has found his groove shooting the ball as of late and can make a huge difference for the Spurs if he's knocking down his shots.  They'll count on him again and I think last year's struggles will help him this season.  Look for Bonner to make a difference off the bench for the Spurs.

Posted on: March 5, 2010 2:57 am
 

NBA Power Rankings (March 4th, 2010)

Wow I actually miss doing these.  I used to do it every week last year and it really was a joy to put them out because they got so much attention on here.  Now with teams having made their moves at the deadline and now that they've been able to incorporate those new players to a certain degree, this serves as an ideal time to return with the power rankings.  We'll now evaluate who stands where at this point in time and who is prime to make a run, who's running out of gas and who is flying under the radar.  So here's this season's first incarnation of GoHornets21's NBA Power Rankings.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (48-14) - LeBron James has been absolutely terrific this season in every way and there's nobody playing better in the league at this point in time.  The injuries to Shaquille O'Neal and the "risky trade" of Zydrunas Ilgauskas really have hurt the frontcourt, and it's going to be difficult trying to get all of those players used to the rotation and back into the flow of things right at the postseason, but the Cavs have the best player in the league to help these players come along.  Mo Williams has found his shot as of late and if he can get consistent at all this season, the Cavs will be even better.  Antawn Jamison still looks like an odd fit, but he's putting up numbers and the Cavs could really use some scoring from the frontcourt positions so he has to be a welcome addition for Cleveland.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (46-16) - The team is still coming along slowly since Kobe Bryant's return to the lineup.  That's not to say this team is better without him.  If they're going to win a championship this season, they need Kobe in top form for the entire postseason.  He is the player that puts them over the top.  But players like Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol and Shannon Brown were getting all kinds of touches and opportunities to create for themselves and others, that they're now having to regress back to earlier this season and allow Kobe to get his touches again.  I think the confidence built up for Brown in Kobe's absence may have already gone to waste at this moment, but there's still time to build it back up.  Lamar Odom continues to play some really solid basketball of late as well.

3. Denver Nuggets (40-21) - The Nuggets continue to be a mixed bag for me.  Sometimes I think they look terrific and other times I think they don't have the mental toughness to be a championship team.  But they've played some really inspired basketball since George Karl's cancer announcement and they continue to stand out, to me, as the Lakers' biggest threat in the Western Conference.  But Dallas is hard on their heels and the Nuggets have to continue to bring it every single night. 

4. Dallas Mavericks (41-21) - Currently the hottest team in the league, the Dallas Mavericks have been a completely different team since Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood entered the starting lineup.  Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd both have just played some really great basketball since the trade and the Mavericks look as good as they have since the year after their NBA Finals apperance.  As we know, that team lost in the first round of the playoffs, though.  I don't expect that to happen this season but the Mavericks still have to distance themselves from the postseason stink that surrounds that franchise.  Is a clutter of assorted individual talents going to be enough to finally get Dallas over the hump?  Only time will tell.  But I think this group of players is a good enough fit for this team to make some kind of run.  Getting that second seed is more important to them than it is to any other team in the Western Conference in my opinion so I don't see them letting up at any point the rest of this year.  This is Dirk's new best chance to get that elusive championship ring.  He's playing like it.

5. Orlando Magic (42-20) - I don't know what's happened in Orlando, but Dwight Howard has really came on as of late.  After that dissapointing loss in New Orleans last week, the Magic have really looked focused out there and it shows in their play on the court.  Rashard Lewis is slowly starting to come along this season (finally) and if he gets a consistent shot like he had last season, this team will again challenge Cleveland in the Eastern Conference.  But they need Lewis to play better than he has this season.  Jameer Nelson continues to be an enigma of sorts in Orlando but when he's on this team really gels.  They need him to regain some kind of consistant form and when he and Lewis do, watch out.

6. Utah Jazz (39-22) - The Jazz have been flying under the radar all season but they're playing great basketball this season.  They've finally learned how to win on the road this season and we all know how tough of a team they are when they're in Salt Lake City.  Deron Williams really has to enter into some MVP talks with the way he's kept this team together, and Carlos Boozer is using this contract year to really step out and he is really playing hard to get paid this summer.  I still think they lack the interior toughness that championship teams possess, but the Jazz shouldn't be underestimated.

7. Atlanta Hawks (39-21) - After these first six teams, it gets a little jumbled up to me.  Atlanta stands out just because they have a terrific starting 5, a solid coach (I don't care what you Hawks fans say to the contrary) and a great 6th man.  Also, they've beaten the only other team I would consider for this spot (Boston) four times this season, so I believe Atlanta deserves to be here.  I usually roll my eyes when people say Joe Johnson is always an underrated superstar in this league, but this year is the first time I would really say that.  He's been huge for the Hawks when they need it and he's had to handle a lot with Mike Bibby's struggles this year and with Jamal Crawford not really being a true point guard.  But he's handled it well.  Marvin Williams has played well the next couple of games, and if they can get him to play hard they'll be just fine in the playoffs.  I don't know why he's been so bland this season.  But this team has the starting five, they just need to start putting it together for the stretch run.

8. Boston Celtics (38-21) - The Celtics are trying to get fully healthy for the first time this season, and if they can do so the league better watch out.  The Celtics really don't need home court advantage in the postseason.  They've been there and done that when it comes to winning in the playoffs and all they need is a fully healthy roster.  Neither Rasheed Wallace or Marquis Daniels turned out like they wanted this offseason in Boston, but picking up Nate Robinson at the deadline looks to be a good move.  What happened to Glen Davis this season?  After last year's run in the playoffs, I thought he was going to emerge as a great player off of Boston's bench this season.  He's only had a couple good games that I can remember all season long.  I guess some of it may be injury, but how much of it is possibly because he got paid this summer?

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-24) - Russell Westbrook continues to be in Kevin Durant's shadow this season but continues to play some of the most unheralded basketball in the league.  However, there's still no equaling what Durant's doing this season.  He's been the catalyst for this surprising team all season long and has absolutely no offensive weakness to his game.  If you want someone to score a point for you down the stretch, I'd put him right up there with Kobe as someone who I would want to have the ball for that possession.  And I whole heartedly mean that.  He's been great.  Jeff Green's stats have fallen off this year as opposed to last year, but I still think he's important as a glue guy for this team.  He's really gotten lost in the praise shuffle in Oklahoma City, and I think his salary may be neglected this offseason and that may hurt the Thunder's progression.  But there's no reason why this team can't win at least one playoff series this year.

10. Phoenix Suns (39-25) - The surprising resurgence in Phoenix continues even after a horrible month of January.  Steve Nash is still playing good basketball, Amar'e Stoudemire has been terrific since the trade deadline (someone else looking to get paid this summer) and they've gotten great contributions from Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic all season long.  Robin Lopez had about a week where he was putting up some terrific numbers but he's regressed a bit these past few games.  The Suns will need him to consistently contribute on both sides of the court if they're going to make any noise in the postseason.  He's shown that he's capable, it's up to him to still find ways to contribute even when teams now make an effort to guard him.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (37-27) - The team with the worst luck in the league is slowly getting back to health and when they do, they're one streak away from convincing me they can contend for a spot in the Western Conference Finals.  They're not that far off.  They're incredibly deep, they have a fantastic bench, a legit superstar in Brandon Roy and one of the best home courts in the league.  Getting Marcus Camby at the deadline will do a lot to soften the blow of not having Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla for the rest of this season.  Juwan Howard played admirably in their absence, but no legitimately good team is going to start him at center.  He probably shouldn't even be getting the heavy minutes that he is, but Nate McMillan really has no other options.  They have to find a way to get healthy this year if they want to make a run, but they can do it.  I like their chances.

12. San Antonio Spurs (34-24) - The Spurs continue to impress you one night, make you sick the next when they take the court.  I think a lot of the inconsistency across the board is Greg Popovich's fault.  All things considered, and I think Pop is the second best coach in the league to Phil Jackon, this has been Pop's worst season as a head coach at San Antonio.  The main reason for the Spurs inconsistency is Pop's inability to have any stable, set rotation this season.  He's given big minutes to George Hill, and that seems to be the only player outside of the big three that Pop knows what he wants to do with them.  He's started Richard Jefferson and brought him off the bench; done the same to Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair and Keith Bogans as well.  He needs to set a rotation, know who he wants in the game and go with that already.  He's hurting this team's chance to get in any rhythym before the playoffs.

13. Milwaukee Bucks (31-29) - I've really been driving the Milwaukee bandwagon as of late.  Andrew Bogut has come down to Earth a little bit after a terrific stretch of basketball, but Scott Skiles and company just find ways to win basketball games.  John Salmons has been indescribably huge for them since coming over at the trade deadline, and let's not forget the contributions Jerry Stackhouse has made for them off the bench since coming on board midway through the season.  You look at their bench, they have Luke Ridnour, Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas, those are players that can contribute for you on a nightly basis.  They're more talented than people give them credit for.  If Brandon Jennings finds his jump shot again at any point the rest of the season, watch out for this team in the playoffs.

14. Toronto Raptors (31-28) - The Raptors started off playing some good basketball after Chris Bosh initially got injured, but have tailed off since; losing their last four games.  I thought Hedo Turkoglu would be an ideal fit for this team and the way they play basketball, but he's just been so unreliable all season long.  Andrea Bargnani really hasn't taken that step forward this season that I thought he would either.  There's a lot of players who have dissapointed up North, but the team still finds itself above .500 and they're still a solid team with Chrsi Bosh in the lineup.  I had bigger hopes for them, though.  Now, I can't see them winning a playoff series.  Then again, I was wrong with them once.

15. Memphis Grizzlies (32-30) - The Grizzlies started off slow, played great basketball, tailed off, and are now starting to play great again.  The team really goes as Zach Randolph goes.  When he plays great, the team is unstoppable.  When he's simply going through the motions and is just putting up decent numbers, it reflects in everyone else's contributions.  The bench is still horrendously thin and that's probably going to keep them out of the postseason.  But the Grizzlies have taken a step forward this season and the franchise at least has a pulse now.

16. New Orleans Hornets (31-31) - This was a crucial week for New Orleans and any hopes they had of making the postseason and the team didn't respond very well.  Losses at home to San Antonio and Memphis have great deteriorated the Hornets' playoff opportunity.  Chris Paul is said to be coming back in roughly a week, and his presence will be welcomed back among Hornets players, coaches and fans alike.  Darren Collison has been terrific in his absence, but his turnovers have cost the Hornets just as many games as he's won for them.  Marcus Thornton continues to be a terrific find in the 2nd round for Interim Head Coach/General Manager Jeff Bower, and the Hornets are doing the right thing by developing their young talent.  This offseason is going to be critical for the direction the Hornets take as a franchise.

17. Chicago Bulls (31-30) - I'm done trying to figure out what kind of team the Bulls are going to be this year.  Outside of Derrick Rose, you don't know what you're getting out of anybody on any given night.  Luol Deng has rebounded very nicely this season and is the clear cut second option, but is that necessarily a good thing?  Joakim Noah's injury also is holding the team back a bit, since he was playing so well at the beginning of the season.  Looking at Ronald Murray, Devin Brown and Jannero Pargo, the Bulls are probably wishing they had held on to John Salmons.  Hakim Warrick has always put up good numbers on bad teams, but is now being asked to contribute for a team with postseason aspirations.  He needs to deliver for Chicago.

18. Miami Heat (31-31) - The Heat's decision to not pursue a second option for Dwyane Wade may have been the right move financially, but it's really hurt the team on the court.  Michael Beasley showed glimpses of being able to put it all together earlier this season but started bickering at reporters and has regressed ever since.  Maybe a lot of you were right when you told me he didn't have the mental toughness to survive in this league.  Outside of Beasley, who of these guys do you really want contributing nightly for your team?  It's such a bad roster that I'm surprised Wade has them at .500.  I know they have the money for him and another superstar, but does this team have the brass to really put a decent team together?  Even if you add another great player, that's still a horrible group of players and now two good players.  It won't make them a championship team. 

19. Houston Rockets (30-30) - After the very publicized trade in Houston, Kevin Martin has come around to finding his shot for the Rockets.  They've been without Kyle Lowry for about 9 games now (I think) and that's really been a big reason why the team has struggled as of late.  They were playing so well at the beginning of the year, and with all the injury problems you kind of pulled for them to make some noise but they just don't have the talent to keep up.  It doesn't seem likely, but hopefully Yao Ming returns healthy next season (long shot) and this team can make some kind of sustained run together.  It's not a bad, little group of players.

20. Charlotte Bobcats (28-31) - For awhile there this team looked like a lock to make the postseason and was playing great basketball.  As of late, they've really looked bad.  Larry Brown hasn't been able to get a handle on this team in the two years he's been with Charlotte, and he doesn't look like he's enjoying the job either.  Michael Jordan buying the team pumps some life into them, but this roster doesn't have any kind of cohesive feel to it.  It's a great assortment of individual talent, but none of them look good together on the court.  I still like the move to acquire Tyrus Thomas at the deadline and he can be huge off the bench for the Bobcats if he plays up to his potential.  Miami is catchable, but their margin for error is slim and the team needs to get an identity and they need to do so quickly.

21. Sacramento Kings (21-40) - Even though the record isn't there, the effort, the hustle, the coaching and the potential is there to create some kind of excitement around Sacramento.  The move to acquire Carl Landry while getting rid of Kevin Martin's contract was just ingenious.  Tyreke Evans should run away with rookie of the year honors and overall this team has a fun feel to it.  Paul Westphal is the perfect balance of discipline and structure that a group of unproven players needs, and this team can really make strides these next two seasons and be back in the playoffs by 2012. 

22. Los Angeles Clippers (25-36) - The curious resigning of Mike Dunleavy and subsequent trades for cap space have once again made the Clippers a barely relevant basketball team, although their record says that they're now awful this season.  This team continues to riddle even the most brilliant of basketball fans, as there's no reason for a team with that kind of talent to be as mediocre as they are.  They have a good point guard, a good center, and good contributors at every position out there.  But they just never can put it together.  Hopefully, Blake Griffin comes back next season fully healthy and this team makes some kind of stride going forward.  There's really no excuse anymore to not succeed.

23. Philadelphia 76ers (22-38) - Nobody's been able to figure out what's going on in Philadelphia all season long.  Eddie Jordan just hasn't given this team any kind of identity or style and the play has been indicative of that.  The Allen Iverson saga has become bigger than the franchise as of late (something that most teams wanted to avoid, which is why Iverson was so available for Philadelphia).  They didn't make any moves at the deadline and I'm curious as to why they didn't, because they either need to get into rebuilding mode or spend ridiculous amounts of cash to be a playoff regular.  Because there isn't a more stale team in the league than this 76ers squad.

24. New York Knicks (21-39) - The Knicks can put up numbers in bunches but still look like garbage some times on the court.  That effort against the Cavaliers was pathetic but at least they rebounded to beat up on Detroit last night.  David Lee has been one of the most consistent players on the court league wide and if not for him the Knicks would probably be in worst shape than they currently are.  Bill Walker looks to be a great find off of Boston's bench (after hearing their interest in Michael Finley, you think they're regretting letting Walker go?) but then again, everyone looks to be a great find when they get in D'Antoni's gimmicked system.  They have a bad team, but that's mainly because they've freed up the space to go after who they want this offseason.  For the sake of their fans, they better get them, because if not this franchise is going to be in really bad shape.

25. Washington Wizards (21-37) - Moving Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler has been so great for this Washington franchise.  It's not that those were bad players, they're really good players.  In fact, their new teams are both in the top four of these power rankings.  And their additions are a big reason why.  But Washington needed a change in identity, and disassociating themselves from anybody involved with the team's playoff runs was a good thing for the future.  Now without the constraints of commitments to veterans, Flip Saunders has taken the handcuffs off this team and their play has been indicative of such.  Andray Blatche, especially, has been huge since the trade deadline and looks fantastic out on the court.  They're still not a good team, but at least they're a team Wizards fans can be prouder of.

26. Detroit Pistons (21-40) - The Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva signings officially look awful.  In fact, they look like some of the worst moves league wide in a long, long time.  It's not as if this team has the cap space to improve, the coaching that gives me confidence things can turn around, or even the young talent that you know they can build around.  Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, Will Bynum, these are all nice players for good teams but they're not players you want to hitch the future of a franchise to.  When you look at the paychecks that Gordon, Villanueva and Jason Maxiell are getting in Detroit, it's no wonder why this team is so average.  They've invested in the wrong types of players and this franchise is in dire needs of a makeover.

27. Indiana Pacers (20-41) - They've really taken a step back this season and injuries have been a big part of it.  Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and even the likes of Jeff Foster and Tyler Hansbrough have all missed substantial time this season.  It's not as if this team was stacked with talent to begin with, so the injuries just make things worse.  Jim O'Brien looks as good as gone, and this is another team that really needs some kind of makeover.  I look at the players Larry Bird has brought in and the players he's drafted, and I don't think he's done a bad job in Indiana.  I just don't look at the roster as a whole and say "there's something to like here."  Danny Granger hasn't been able to duplicate the success he had last season and neither has Troy Murphy for the most part.  Those are probably the biggets reasons why Indiana has taken such a drastic step back.

28. Golden State Warriors (17-43) - Stephen Curry has really been a feel good story in the Bay City and has done a lot to lessen the blow that is how awful this team is out on the court.  He's played all year and has done a fine job in his starting role, but Monta Ellis' recent injury problems have only added on to the long list of injured Warriors on the roster.  This is now becoming a recurring theme every year for Golden State, and it confuses me as an observer from the outside.  Why is it that all these players are getting hurt in Golden State every single year, regardless if the player has any kind of injury history or is even getting any substantial minutes to where this injury can occur.  There's some kind of bad aura surrounding Golden State right now and it doesn't look bright for the Warriors.

29. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-48) - Finally Corey Brewer has come around to being a servicable player in this league.  Maybe still not worthy of the lottery pick the Timberwolves used on him, but a good player nonethless.  Outside of him and Kevin Love, everybody that was on the team last season just has dissapeared this season.  This bootleg triangle that Kurt Rambis is trying to opperate just is not working.  Al Jefferson is nowhere near the player he was the last two seasons.  Ryan Gomes would at least show glimpses of being a good player last year and he's been virtually non-existent this season.  Jonny Flynn has put up good numbers but has done nothing to stand out in Minnesota as well.  This is another team that's still a bit puzzling because you don't know when the true rebuilding stage is going to kick in.  They're obviously not anywhere near playoff contention yet, but what gives you any indication they will be in the near future?

30. New Jersey Nets (6-54) - For awhile there I bought into the hype that the Nets could set the NBA record for futility and surpass the 76ers 9-63 record.  After last week's win at Boston, I'm convinced this team will at least go 4- 19 over their last 23 games to get that elusive tenth victory.  This team has no business being this bad, and for that reason I kind of feel as if they deserve to carry that loser label around with them.  They don't try, they don't perform, they're undisciplined and they don't seem to care that they're so awful of a team.  Poor Kiki Vandeweghe was told to firesale the roster with the hopes of acquiring LeBron James this offseason, but he's going to be blamed for how bad this roster is.  Even with all this cap space, there's no reason for a player to want to go to New Jersey, the impending move to Brooklyn is still pending, and that Russian billionare who was going to buy the team still has yet to buy them.  Even still, they shouldn't be anywhere near 9-63. 
Category: NBA
Tags: 76ers, Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andray Blatche, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Antawn Jamison, Antonio McDyess, Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Bill Walker, Blake Griffin, Bobcats, Brandon Jennings, Brandon Roy, Brendan Haywood, Bucks, Bulls, Carl Landry, Carlos Boozer, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Channing Frye, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Clippers, Corey Brewer, Danny Granger, Darren Collison, David Lee, DeJuan Blair, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Devin Brorwn, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, George Hill, Glen Davis, Goran Dragic, Grant Hill, Greg Oden, Grizzlies, Hakim Warrick, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jamal Crawford, Jameer Nelson, Jannero Pargo, Jared Dudley, Jason Kidd, Jason Maxiell, Jazz, Jeff Foster, Jeff Green, Jerry Stackhouse, Joakim Noah, Joe Johnson, Joel Przybilla, John Salmons, Jonas Jerebko, Jonny Flynn, Jordan Farmar, Juwan Howard, Keith Bogans, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kurt Thomas, Kyle Lowry, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, Luke Ridnour, Luol Deng, Magic, Marcus Camby, Marcus Thornton, Marquis Daniels, Marvin Williams, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Mike Bibby, Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Pistons, Raptors, Rashard Lewis, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Jefferson, Robin Lopez, Rockets, Rodney Stuckey, Ronald Murray, Russell Westbrook, Ryan Gomes, Shannon Brown, Shaquille O'Neal, Spurs, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, Suns, Thunder, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Troy Murphy, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyreke Evans, Tyrus Thomas, Warriors, Will Bynum, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zach Randolph
 
Posted on: June 17, 2009 7:37 pm
 

Biggest Draft Busts of NBA Draft Lottery Era

Now that the season is over and the draft is underway, the time is here and now to revisit my draft observations and start to look back at the biggest draft busts of all time.  There are quite a few go through, actually, and I know some people are going to point out that I left some out, but I'm taking into account the player, the players drafted after them, and the player's performance and attitude.  So here it goes: the biggest draft busts of the NBA Draft Lottery Era.

16) Adam Morrison, SF, Charlotte Bobcats Drafted 3rd Overall in 2006 NBA Draft out of University of Gonzaga (130 Games, 8.7 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.6 APG) - I only wanted to include 15 players, but I just want to remind everyone of how big of a draft bust Morrison has turned out to be.  While in college, Morrison would score from all angles and was unstoppable while at Gonzaga.  After a fantastic junior season in which he and Duk eguard J.J. Redick took the college world by storm, Morrison declared for the 2006 NBA Draft and was looked by many as a second coming of Larry Bird.  One of many questionable executive decisions by Michael Jordan, Morrison showed flashes of the dynamic scoring that made him such a high draft pick in his rookie season, but in the preseason of his second year in the league, Morrison suffered an extremely ugly looking ACL tear.  He missed all of his second season and then struggled to break into the rotation in this third year with the Bobcats.  Morrison was shipped to the Los Angeles Lakers midway through the 2008-2009 NBA Season but is an afterthought in the rotation and did not make the playoff roster for a team that won the NBA Championship.  He's a future free agent this offseason and it's questionable whether Morrison will have any kind of future in the NBA.

15) Todd Fuller, PF, Golden State Warriors Drafted 11th Overall in 1996 NBA Draft out of North Carolina State University (225 Games, 3.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG) - One of many awful Warriors draft picks in the Dave Twardzik era, Fuller was never really any good and never showed promise of being much of anything in his career, having a career high of 15 points and lasting only two seasons with the Warriors; four seasons in the league overall.  And if you want to look at the players drafted after him, you could have had a productive all star at every position: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, Jermaine O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

14) Los Angeles Clippers - The Clippers gave former general manager Elgin Baylor handfuls of opportunities to get it right in the first round during the draft lottery era, and he flopped almost every time.  In 1985, Benoit Benjamin was drafted 3rd overall (807 Games, 11.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.3 APG), Reggie Williams was drafted 4th overall in 1987 (599 Games, 12.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG), Charles Smith was drafted 3rd Overall in 1988 (564 Games, 14.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.4 BPG), Bo Kimble was taken 8th overall in the 1990 NBA Draft (105 Games, 5.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG), LeRon Ellis was taken 22nd Overall in 1991 (91 Games, 3.0 PPG, 2.4 RPG), Randy Woods was taken 16th in 1992 (151 Games, 2.4 PPG, 1.7 APG), Terry Dehere was taken 13th in 1993 NBA Draft (402 Games, 8.0 PPG, 2.6 APG, 1.5 RPG), Lamond Murray was taken 7th in 1994 (736 Games, 11.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.3 APG), Lorenzen Wright was taken 7th overall in the famed 1996 NBA Draft (778 Games, 8.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG),  Maurice Taylor was taken 14th in 1997 (534 Games, 11.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.2 APG), Darius Miles was taken 3rd overall in 2000 (446 Games, 10.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.1 BPG), Melvin Ely 12th overall in 2002 (343 Games, 5.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG), Chris Kaman 6th overall in 2003 (385 Games, 10.4 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 1.2 APG), Shaun Livingston 4th overall in 2004 (157 Games, 7.3 PPG, 4.6 APG, 3.1 RPG), and Yaroslav Korolev was taken 12th in 2005 and hasn't played a minute in the NBA.  There are a few solid names and numbers, but year after year of opportunities to draft an above average player and the Clippers flopped all of them.  In fact, the most respectable players drafted by the Clippers in the draft lottery era are Lamar Odom (1999), Tyson Chandler (2001) and Antonio McDyess (1995).  Chandler and McDyess both had their rights traded to other squads before ever suiting up for the Clippers, and Odom didn't make it past four years with the Clippers.  One glaringly bad selection is being saved for later in this countdown.   God save Blake Griffin.

13) Danny Ferry, F, Los Angeles Clippers Drafted 2nd Overall in 1989 NBA Draft out of Duke University (917 Games, 7.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.3 APG) - Taken by the ill fated Clippers, Ferry refused to report to Los Angeles and after playing a year in Italy to protest, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and given a very lucrative ten year guaranteed contract by Cleveland.  The guy he was traded for?  Ron Harper.  A tremendous colliegate player with size and a shooting touch, Ferry was supposed to be a great player but hardly produced in Cleveland.  He did, however, win a championship on the end of the bench for the 2003 San Antonio Spurs.

12) Ed O'Bannon, PF, New Jersey Nets drafted 9th Overall in 1995 NBA Draft out of University of California in Los Angeles (128 Games, 5.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG) - The star and Final Four MVP for the 1995 UCLA Bruins, O'Bannon wasn't big enough for the league and struggled to score when drafted by the New Jersey Nets.  Hardly making any kind of niche in this league, O'Bannon lasted a year and a half with New Jersey before being shipped to Dallas.  His entire NBA Career was two seasons.

11) Future Michael Jordans - Harold Miner, SG, Miami Heat drafted 12th Overall in 1995 NBA Draft out of University of Southern California (200 Games, 9.0 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.2 APG) and Dennis Hopson, SF, New Jersey Nets drafted 3rd Overall in 1987 NBA Draft out of Ohio State University (334 Games, 10.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.6 APG) - Jordan's dominance in the league prompted many analysts to try and find the "next Michael Jordan" to come in every single draft.  A fantastic scorer at Ohio State, Hopson struggled on the court and clashed with his coaches before being shipped to Chicago and quietly exiting the league after five seasons in the league.  Miner won two NBA Slam Dunk Contests and his athletic ability prompted the media to christen him "Baby Jordan."  Outside of dunking, Miner wasn't very talented in any area of the court and he only lasted four years in the league.  The closest either of these players got to Jordan was when Hopson sat on the bench in 1991 and won an NBA Championship with Jordan's Chicago Bulls.

10) William Bedford, C, Phoenix Suns drafted 6th Overall in 1986 NBA Draft out of University of Memphis (238 Games, 4.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG) - Bedford was an imposing presence in college for the Memphis Tigers and was projected to be a huge NBA star.  Drafted sixth overall by Phoenix, Bedford only lasted six seasons in the league and struggled with drug addiction the entire time.  He was arrested for drug possession twice in 1996 and 1997, accused of transporting 25 pounds of marijuana in 2001 and arrested two more times for marijuana before being given a ten year sentence in 2003.  Bedford is currently serving time in Fort Worth, Texas and will be in prison until 2013.

9) Rafael Araujo, C, Toronto Raptors drafted 8th Overall in 2004 NBA Draft out of Bringham Young University (139 Games, 2.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG) - A prime example of what happens when you draft for need instead of by talent, Araujo was taken eigth overall by Toronto in 2004 and lasted only three seasons in the league.  His play on the court was abysmal and he's one of many examples of why you should never draft a player simply for his size.  He was out of the league by 2007 after he was traded to Utah.

8) Eddie Griffin, F, New Jersey Nets drafted 7th Overall in 2001 NBA Draft out of Seton Hall University (303 Games, 7.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.7 BPG) - An extremely talented ball player, Griffin had many flashes of brilliance in college at Seton Hall, but had many character problems and even got into a fight with a teammate during a practice that was the beginning of the end for a promising Seton Hall season.  Once viewed as a possible selection for the first overall pick, Griffin was drafted by the Nets.  Griffin's rights were traded to the Houston Rockets for the rights to Richard Jefferson and Griffin quickly drank himself out of the league.  Succumbing to alcohol problems, Griffin rarely played as a result of his problems and his performance didn't show much promise either.  He was released in 2003, and missed every game until 2004 as a result of being in a rehabilitation clinic.  He came back to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves and was a good story before his off court problems and on court production continued to dissapoint critics until Minnesota released him in 2007.  Griffin eventually died in August of 2007 after his car was hit by a train.

7) Jonathan Bender, PF, Toronto Raptors drafted 5th Overall in 1999 NBA Draft out of Picayune High School (237 Games, 5.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG) - Billed as a Kevin Garnett clone, the Indiana Pacers immediately traded established forward Antonio Davis for the rights to Bender and looked to make him a cornerstone for the future of the squad.  Davis went on to be an all star in Toronto and Bender never got off of the bench in Indiana.  Injuries and inconsistency kept Bender grounded and he quietly exited the league in 2006.

6) Nikoloz Tskitishvili, PF, Denver Nuggets drafted 5th Overall in 2002 NBA Draft out of Georgia [Europe] (172 Games, 2.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG) - Tskitishvili played profesionally in Italy and won the 2002 Italian championship under current Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni.  Viewed as an extremely talented player with a ridiculous skill set, Nikoloz was quickly taken by the Denver Nuggets in 2002 and billed as a do-it-all type player who can score in transition, run the floor, score from the outside but was a foreign product who teams had hardly seen play.  As a result, he was simply word of mouth when he was drafted by Denver and his performance on the court was awful.  A worst case scenario for foreign drafted players, Nikoloz is possibly the worst lottery pick in terms of talent and quickly left the league after the 2007 season.

5) Robert Traylor, PF, Dallas Mavericks drafted 6th Overall in 1998 NBA Draft out of University of Michigan (438 Games, 4.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG) - Note to NBA: don't draft someone in the lottery who is nicknamed Tractor.  Standing at 6 foot 8 and generously being billed at 284 pounds, Traylor was an imposing presence in college and bullied around opposition in the paint.  When drafted by Dallas, his draft rights were immediately traded for the rights to German prospect Dirk Nowitzki.  Nowitzki is a future hall of famer, and Traylor's production on the court was abysmal.  Traylor regularly battled obesity to the point where he was out of the league by 2005. 

4) Michael Olowoakandi, C, Los Angeles Clippers drafted 1st Overall in 1998 NBA Draft out of University of Pacific (500 Games, 8.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG) - So big a bust that he deserves a slot all his own, seperated from the Clippers, Olowokandi is the worst of all of the draft blunders made by the doomed Los Angeles franchise.  After only one solid season for the Pacific Tigers, Olowokandi was drafted to be the man in the middle of the future for the Clippers and rewarded them with mediocre production.  He showed flashes of being a solid player, but once he signed to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Olowokandi hardly got off of the bench.  Suffering through injuries his entire career, Olowokandi was drafted first overall in a draft that produced six different NBA All Stars in Mike Bibby, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Rashard Lewis.

3) Chris Washburn, C, Golden State Warriors drafted 3rd Overall in 1986 NBA Draft out of North Carolina State University (72 Games, 3.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG) - An extremely talented athlete gifted with extremely soft hands and incredible speed for someone his size, Washburn was drafted third overall under much publicity for Golden State.  A high school prodigy of sorts, Washburn was inconsistent at North Carolina State and teammates would question his work ethic and criticize his penchant for skipping class.  After serving jail time for stealing a stereo while in college, Washburn would have one good season and declare for the NBA Draft.  The Warriors lookd to bring him along slowly to cope with his immaturity but it didn't work.  Washburn was largely ineffective and rarely got off the bench.  After only three seasons in the league, Washburn was banned from the NBA for life after testing positive for cocaine three times in three years.

2) Kwame Brown, C, Washington Wizards drafted 1st Overall in 2001 NBA Draft out of Glynn Academy High School (462 Games, 7.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.0 APG) - Brown holds the distinction of being the first high schooler to ever be selected first overall in an NBA Draft.  Highlighted as the first of many bad executive decisions made by basketball legend Michael Jordan, Brown struggled to display any production or maturity in his first few years as a Wizard.  In his th ird season he showed real signs of a breakthrough, but injuries and problems with his teammates cost him his job in Washington.  He was sent home by the Wizards during the 2005 NBA postseason and was on the negative end of two of the most lopsided trades in recent memory, being traded to the Lakers for Caron Butler and then being traded to the Grizzlies for Pau Gasol.  His future looks to be primarily as a backup center in the league.

1) Darko Milicic, F-C, Detroit Pistons drafted 2nd Overall in 2003 NBA Draft out of Serbia (337 Games, 5.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.2 BPG) - There were a lot of great players in the famed 2003 NBA Draft.  Going into the draft, it was almost assured to all that Darko Milicic would be the first player selected after LeBron James.  The Detroit Pistons, fresh off of a conference finals appearance, were able to land the No. 2 pick after a prior deal with the then Vancouver Grizzlies for Otis Thorpe.  Milicic arrived with much fan fare in Detroit but was never able to get off of the bench.  Viewed as too young by fans and coach Larry Brown, the 18 year old Milicic sat on the bench for two Pistons teams that went to the finals and Darko won a championship in his rookie season on the 2004 Pistons team.  Midway through his third year with the Pistons, still unable to get off of the bench, Milicic was traded to the Magic and showed the promise that people hoped for.  However, after landing a solid deal from the Memphis Grizzlies as a result of that promise, Milicic has largely dissapointed and stands out as a ridiculously underachieving talent in a draft that included players such as Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and even Chris Kaman, Kirk Hinrich, T.J. Ford and David West drafted after Milicic.  Even though the Pistons achieved great success at the early part of this century, this pick is largely viewed as "what could have been" as most say the team would have achieved more than one championship if not for this draft blunder.
Posted on: June 1, 2009 1:13 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:43 am
 

Previewing The 2009 NBA Finals

After correctly predicting the NBA finals in my review of the conference finals, I find it important that I hurry aboard to try and keep up my good name by predicting the NBA Finals.  In all honesty, I couldn't be happier with this matchup.  Not only did I pick it, these, in my opinion, are the two best teams that the NBA could offer at this point.  Both of these teams have faced adversity.  Both have taken shots in the media and Stan Van Gundy and Pau Gasol have been the most critiqued figures in the media since the postseason started.  But how did they get here?

The Magic stumbled at the end of the season, coupling blowout losses with an injury to Hedo Turkoglu and really entered the playoffs on a sour note.  Furthermore, two of their first three games of the postseason they lose to the 76ers on fantastic last second shots by Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young.  However, with the team down 2-1 in Philadelphia and with the game tied, Hedo Turkoglu came through with the biggest shot this season for the Magic, nailing a three in the final seconds to tie the series at two apiece.  After Dwight Howard was suspended for game six in that series, the team really came together and played their most complete game of the postseason, winning and exiling Philadelphia in six games.  The defending champion Boston Celtics came next and the Magic, again, were dealt a crushing loss in game 4.  With the Magic up 2-1, just seconds away from taking a commanding 3-1 lead, Boston forward Glen Davis nails a terrific shot and the series is tied.  The Celtics went on to win game 5 and all looked lost for Orlando.  But display the stuff that champions are made of, Orlando took care of business at home in game 6 and then crushed Boston on their home court in game 7.  By the time the Conference Finals came around, the Magic had already seen everything anyone could throw at them.  So when the Cavaliers jumped out to 20 point leads three different times in this series, it should not surprise that Orlando came back in all of them because they've never displayed a lack of effort out on the court.  Thoroughly exposing and defeating the Cavaliers, Orlando now is making it's second finals appearance in franchise history but is looking for their first championship.

The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storried teams in history.  In the present tense, they're probably the most talented team in basketball.  That's what makes it so frustrating when you see how they coast from time to time out there on the court.  Now making their 30th appearance in the NBA finals in franchise history, the Lakers' road was just as rocky but was more publicly ridiculed than Orlando's.  After defeating the Jazz in five games, the Lakers faced off against the Houston Rockets in what turned out to be a brutal, physical battle.  After Yao Ming got injured and the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead, it looked like all was lost for Houston.  But the Lakers allowed the depleted Rockets to blow them out two more games before the Lakers took the series in seven games.  After letting Houston take them to seven, the Lakers were suddenly everyone's favorite team to hate and people wrongfully bashed them before their series with the Nuggets.  Aside from an embarassing game 4, the Lakers genuinely played good, complete basketball against the Nuggets, including an impressive game 5 and a mind blowingly convincing game 6 in order to get the team to the finals.  Kobe Bryant looks to win his fourth NBA Championship, his first without Shaquille O'Neal, and bring Phil Jackson his 10th, which would put Phil alone atop the list of coaches with championshp rings. 

How do these teams match up and who has the advantage in what area?  That will now be addressed.
Western Conference Champion: (1) Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs. Eastern Conference Champion: (3) Orlando Magic (59-23)

Why The Lakers Will Win: The Lakers hold the advantage of having the best player in the game on their side.  Kobe Bryant proved in the Denver series that he is still capable of going above and beyond the call of duty in order to ensure that his team wins that elusive championship.  With an extremely talented roster, the Lakers are capable of throwing many defenders at the Magic and are athletic enough and talented enough to give Orlando fits on defense, something that Philadelphia did but that Boston and Cleveland really couldn't.  In that lineup to guard Orlando, the Lakers could also score very efficently as all of the players on the court are capable of scoring from different spots on the floor.  The bench has been really hit or miss for Los Angeles, but usually either Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar or Luke Walton will come up big one game or another.  They usually have at least one player each game stand tall.  It would help if all of them could get on the same page, but the current formulat hasn't crippled them.  Trevor Ariza will be huge in this series, as he has been all postseason, because finally there is a player whom Orlando will face that can guard Rashard Lewis.  With Ariza being tall, athletic and even strong enough to stay in front of Lewis, Lewis may have a hard time.  Lewis has had a tendency to show up in spurts for Orlando and Ariza can really contain those spots.

Why The Magic Will Win: The Magic can't be criticized for a lack of effort or be accused of coasting at all this postseason because they're not talented enough to do that and they haven't faced competition where they can get away with it.  As a result, for nineteen excruciating games, the Magic have had to go out and battle for four quarters.  Public perception would tell us that means the Magic could be exhausted by this point but I truly believe that those battles are the best experience a team can have entering the NBA Finals.  Well prepared now for any situation they could possibly experience, the Magic have shown that they can jump out on you for a big lead, come back on you if you have a big lead, win close games, handle tough losses and still stand tall throughout all of it.  They have the most unguardable player in the series in Dwight Howard.  The Lakers don't play Andrew Bynum often and he's been such a foul machine all postseason that I can't imagine him getting more than 12-15 minutes a game in this series.  That leaves Pau Gasol in the game against Dwight more often than not.  When that happens, Gasol's lack of strength in addition to wanting to avoid foul trouble will allow Howard to have a field day down in the paint.  The Magic could run into trouble if Phil goes to foul Dwight whenever he's around the basket, and the Lakers have the bodies to do that, but Stan Van Gundy has been the best at adjustments in this postseason and he can find a way to have Dwight be quicker with decisions with the basketball.  When Howard kicks it out, all of the Magic shooters have proved capable of hitting big shots.  The Magic are lucky to have two terrific on the ball defenders in Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee, and if those two can give Kobe Bryant fits then the rest of the Lakers have not proven they can carry Kobe.  Kobe has carried this team all postseason long, and if the Magic can make Kobe struggle then they will reap the benefits.

Key Player for the Lakers: Lamar Odom is going to be huge for the Lakers.  Because the Magic play such a small lineup, he will find himself matched up with both Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis on both sides of the court throughout the game.  However, his versatility at the power forward position allows the Lakers to be able to match and still be effective against the Magic's unorhodox lineup.  He's been battling a back injury all postseason, but has shown flashes where he hustles, goes after loose balls and really makes it look effortless on the court.  At this level and with him being a player capable of going out to guard Lewis while still also being a force on offense, Odom cannot afford to revert back to his inconsistent quiet ways.  If he plays a huge series the Lakers will undoubtedly come out victorious.

Key Player for the Magic: Rafer Alston has been really hit or miss this entire postseason, as well, but when he's been on, the Magic have won.  Point guards have given the Lakers trouble all postseason and Alston isn't the most talented player at his position, but is a quick and smart player at the point guard position.  His shot has been really streaky and sometimes he takes ill advised chances on the offensive side of the basketball, but if can keep his head in the game and knock down open jump shots then he can be a huge difference maker for the Magic.  Derek Fisher has had a hard time on defense this postseason and has struggled with his jump shot, so this is a prime opportunity for Alston to take advantage of that and thoroughly outplay Fisher.  If he does that, then the Magic will have the advantage to the championship.

Prediction: Lakers in six.

Key As To Why They Will Win: Home court is huge here for Los Angeles.  In the 2-3-2 format, the road team has more of an opportunity than they have at any other level of the postseason.  However, although both teams have shown they're more than capable of winning big playoff games on the road, the Lakers role players play at a different level in Los Angeles.  As a result, the fact that they have more home games is crucial.  Kobe Bryant is going to be effective and consistent in this postseason, and having Trevor Ariza's versatility on both offense and defense this season will hide some of the holes that the team had in last season's finals with the Celtics.  Dwight Howard will severely take out Pau Gasol on both sides of the court, but Odom will be able to take advantage of either Lewis or Turkoglu's struggles on the ball defensively. 

Conclusion: This series is genuinely tough and could go either way.  I look at both squads and I'm happy that they're both here.  They're both experienced in tough situations and are the two most talented teams in the league.  The Magic get the bill as underdog just because the eleminated LeBron James and are facing the star studded Lakers, but they're not some cinderella team that is running on borrowed time.  Dwight Howard is going to be unstoppable in this series but his penchant for foul trouble is a reason why I went against Orlando.  With him being the only sure advantage for Orlando, he's going to be in high demand all series long and needs to be effective at all times.  If players drive it to the basket and get him in foul trouble, and if the Lakers continuously send him to the foul line, that's going to disrupt the Magic flow and really will take them out of this series.  Orlando's had a great run, but I feel as if the intelligence has finally caught up to the talent for the Lakers and I look for them to take advantage of being here for a second straight season.  I've picked them all year and I'll pick them now: the Los Angeles Lakers will be our 2009 NBA Champions.

Posted on: May 30, 2009 4:39 am
 

Best 2nd Round Selections of Draft Lottery Era

Coming off of ranking the top draft picks in NBA's history, I thought it would be fun to go back and look at those guys who are quietly selected in the 2nd round. Usually when the 2nd round comes on, the televisions are turned off and people stop taking notice. As a fan, you may look at the player your team selected the next day and scratch your head at the unfamiliarity, but sometimes these players turn out to be fantastic additions to some very important squads. With there being no love for the 2nd rounders, I thought I would compose a list of the top 15 2nd round draft picks in NBA history during the Draft Lottery Era. Before 1989, drafts would go longer than 2 rounds so to give love to those picked later than normal, I'm including those who were selected after the 2nd round as well.

15) Mario Elie, G, Milwaukee Bucks drafted 160th Overall in 1985 NBA Draft out of American International College (732 Games, 8.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.6 APG) - Drafted in the 7th round in the 1985 NBA Draft, Elie didn't automatically get to play in the NBA. Becoming a playground legend in New York, nicknamed "The Jedi", Elie would then go on to play in many international leagues in the Portugese League, World Basketball League and spending two years in the CBA, all while trying to get into the NBA. Elie eventually played his first games in 1991 with the Golden State Warriors. After spending two successful seasons with the Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers, Elie would sign with the Houston Rockets and his career would take off. Nicknamed "The Junk Yard Dog", Ellie would be a key reserve and incredibly clutch shooter for two NBA Championship teams for the Rockets in 1994 and 1995. Elie's most famous shot is probably the shot that eleminated the Phoenix Suns in game 7 of the 1994 Western Conference Semifinals. Elie would start in the 1995 NBA Finals for the champion Houston Rockets and would leave to sign with the San Antonio Spurs in 1998. After signing with the Spurs, Elie started at shooting guard and helped the Spurs win their first NBA Championship with the same defense and late game shooting that made him so effective in Houston. Elie would then spend one more year with the Phoenix Suns before retiring in 2001. Elie currently serves as an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks.

14) P.J. Brown, F-C, New Jersey Nets drafted 29th Overall in 1992 NBA Draft out of Louisiana Tech University (1,089 Games, 9.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 BPG) - Leaving Louisiana Tech as the school's 2nd place all time blocked shots leader and 5th place all time rebounds leader, Brown would be drafted by the New Jersey Nets with the first pick in the 2nd round of the 1992 NBA Draft. Electing to play in Greece his rookie season instead of signing with the Nets, Brown would be very successful for Panionios for only one season before signing with the Nets. Brown would immediately become a key defensive big man for the Nets during a 1994 playoff run before signing with the Miami Heat in 1996. While with the Heat, Brown and Alonzo Mourning keyed one of the best defensive frontcourts in the NBA and would routinely lead Miami to the NBA Postseason. Void of postseason success, however, the Heat would try to shape things up and win a championship by trading Brown to the Charlotte Hornets. While with Charlotte, P.J. Brown became a fan favorite for his quiet demeanor and strong, physical play and would eventually get to play in his hometown of New Orleans when the Charlotte Hornets moved there in the 2002 offseason. P.J. Brown would continue to be a very servicable player for New Orleans before being traded to the Chicago Bulls. It looked as if that would be the end of Brown's career, but Brown signed with the Boston Celtics midway through the 2007-2008 season and would be the team's best reserve big man en route to finally winning that elusive NBA Championship. Brown never officially announced his retirement but did not sign with anybody during the 2008-2009 season and is rumored to want to get into coaching.

13) Cuttino Mobley, SG, Houston Rockets drafted 41st Overall in 1998 NBA Draft out of University of Rhode Island (747 Games, 16.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG) - After playing colleigately at Rhode Island and teaming with Lamar Odom to lead the Rams to an Elite 8 appearance, the sharp shooting Cuttino Mobley would be drafted in the second round by the Houston Rockets in 1998. After being drafted in the second round, something Mobley took personally, he worked to become a starter for the Rockets for the majroity of his rookie season. He and Steve Francis eventually formed a dynamic offensive duo for the Rockets and Mobley would emerge as the guy who drew the assignment of guarding the other team's best swingman. After averaging over 15 points a game for seven straight seasons, Mobley would be traded to the Magic and then from the Magic to the Kings before signing with the Los Angeles Clippers. Once in Los Angeles, Mobley helped the Clippers win their first postseason round in franchise history in 2006. He would later be traded to the New York Knicks and during his physical for the Knicks, he was found to have an irregular heart condition. The heart condition killed former NBA player Reggie Lewis and Mobley, taking precaution, announced his retirement from basketball after finding out the condition.

12) Antonio Davis, PF, Indiana Pacers drafted 45th Overall in 1990 NBA Draft out of University of Texas in El Paso (903 Games, 10.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.1 APG) - After being drafted in the 2nd round by the Pacers, Davis would elect to play in Europe from 1990 until 1993. After signing with the Indiana Pacers in 1993, Davis would immediately become an extremely productive sixth man and would give the team energy, defensive effort and strong physicality around the basket, quickly winning over fans and coaches alike. Although he played five strong seasons with Indiana, Davis' best days came when he was traded to the Toronto Raptors for the draft rights to Jonathan Bender. After going to Toronto, Davis would be named to the 2001 Eastern Conference All Star Team and would routinely pick up double doubles over a season's span. Davis was eventually traded to the Bulls and wound up on the Knicks before heading back to Toronto for his 13th season. After playing only eight games in his return with Toronto, Davis would start to suffer from a chronic back injury. The injury eventually forced him to retire in 2006.

11) Cedric Ceballos, F, Phoenix Suns drafted 48th Overall in 1990 NBA Draft out of California State University in Fullerton (609 Games, 14.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.2 APG) - An offensively potent player for Cal State Fullerton, Ceballos was drafted by the Phoenix Suns and immediately worked his way to being an offensive threat off of the bench for some successful Phoenix teams. In 1993, Ceballos lead the NBA in field goal percentage and was the sixth man for a Suns team that went to the 1993 NBA finals. Ceballos would receive more playing time in the 1993-1994 season and started averaging above 19 points a game with the Suns. After signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, Ceballos would take the team by storm averaging above 20 points a game in his only two full seasons with Los Angeles and also winning the 1995 Slam Dunk Contest. Ceballos would be traded back to Phoenix and would eventually be a reserve for Phoenix, Dallas, Detroit and Miami before leaving the NBA in 2001.

10) Clifford Robinson, F, Portland Trail Blazers drafted 36th Overall in 1989 NBA Draft out of University of Connecticut (1,380 Games, 14.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG) - As a very balanced very successful player for the UConn Huskies, Robinson would be drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers and immediately become one of the best sixth men in the league. A tall player capable of playing either position and scoring from anywhere on the floor, Robinson would be a key contributor to two Western Conference Champion teams in Portland and would win the 1993 NBA Sixth Man of the Year with Portland. After spending eight years with Portland, Robinson would go on to have similar success in Phoenix, notching a 50 point game at the age of 33 with Phoenix. After routinely leading the Suns in scoring for some successful teams that reached the postseason, Robinson would go on to become a starter for the Pistons and Warriors before finishing his career as a reserve for the Nets. At the tail end of his career Robinson would be suspended on two separate occasions for testing positive for marijuana. Robinson would retire in 2007 and would, then, have his jersey number retired by the historic UConn Huskies.

9) Stephen Jackson, G-F, Phoenix Suns drafted 43rd Overall in 1997 NBA Draft out of Oak Hill Academy High School (599 Games, 15.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.3 SPG) - After commiting to the University of Arizona, Jackson would be deemed academically ineligible and be kicked out of the school in his freshman season. After spending one semester at Butler Community College, but not playing basketball, Jackson would declare for the 1997 NBA Draft. Even though he was drafted, Jackson would not make the final roster for Phoenix and would then spend three seasons around the world, playing in the CBA, NBL and in Venezuela and the Domincan Republic. Jackson would eventually sign with the New Jersey Nets in the 2000 NBA offseason and would be a productive reserve for the Nets during the 2000-2001 season. After his contract went up, Jackson would sign with the San Antonio Spurs and under the tutelage of Greg Popovich, would eventually work his way towards becoming the team's starting shooting guard for their 2003 NBA Championship run hitting numerous critical shots for the Spurs along the way in the postseason. After winning that championship, Jackson tried to cash in on his success but received a limited amount of offers. He would sign a one year deal with Atlanta, turning himself into an extremely productive player with the Hawks and turning that into a six year deal with the Indiana Pacers. While in Indiana, Jackson would become involved in many on and off the court troubles including being suspended in the infamous Pistons Pacers brawl. Jackson was traded to the Golden State Warriors and right away would go back to his clutch postseason performances by helping the Warriors pull of the upset of heavily favored Dallas in the 2007 NBA First Round. Jackson's continued to steadily increase his production with the Warriors and is one of the most tenacious, if not troubled, successful players in the league.

8) Gilbert Arenas, G, Golden State Warriors drafted 31st Overall in 2001 NBA Draft out of University of Arizona (433 Games, 22.8 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.8 SPG) - After leaving the Arizona Wildcats following his sophomore season, Arenas would be deemed a shaky prospect without much potential, lacking the size to be a shooting guard and lacking the ball handling skill to be a legitimate point guard. Because of this, Arenas was passed over by every team in the first round but would then be drafted by the Golden State Warriors. After spending his rookie season working hard towards becoming a superstar, Arenas would get his chance and in his second year in the league would win the 2003 NBA Most Improved Player of the Year award, quickly becoming one of the best young scorers in the league. Arenas turned his second season into a long term deal with the Washington Wizards where his performances became some of the most popular clips in sports. Combining a fantastic knack for scoring the basketball with clutch shooting and a vibrant personality, Arenas would quickly become one of the most popular players in the league. After leading the Wizards to the postseason two straight seasons, even winning a first round matchup for the first time in over a decade for Washington. However, after following that with successful individual seasons for the Wizards, Arenas would be experiencing his best NBA Season in 2006-2007 when with eight games left in the season, Gerald Wallace accidentally fell into Arenas' leg. Arenas then missed the postseason and would only play 13 games the following season for the Wizards, although he did try and play for the team in the postseason. After opting out of his contract with Washington and signing a new, huge long term deal for the Wizards, Arenas would only play two games in the first year of his contract after another knee operation. It's unknown whether Arenas will ever return to the exciting style of basketball that made him so popular as he's struggled to get on the court for the past three seasons.

7) Michael Redd, G, Milwaukee Bucks drafted 43rd Overall in 2000 NBA Draft out of Ohio State University (550 Games, 20.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG) - Leading the Ohio State Buckeyes to the final four in his junior season, Redd had been the driving force for Ohio State's offense all three of his colleigate seasons for the Buckeyes. After his junior season, Redd declared for the 2000 NBA Draft and was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks. Redd rarely played in his rookie season but played so hard in practice and continued to work on his jump shot so in his second season, coach George Karl offered to give Redd more minutes. Redd responded with solid production and was then given a starting job for the Bucks. By his fourth season in the league, Redd became one of the best shooting guards in the league, becoming deadly effective from the three point line and also routinely leading the Bucks in scoring. He would be rewarded for his efforts with a six year deal from Milwaukee. Redd won a Gold Medal with the USA Olympic Basketball Team in 2008 and has been the best player on two Bucks teams that have made the postseason. He still has many solid years ahead of him and looks to continue to be an effective offensive force in the NBA

6) Jeff Hornacek, G, Phoenix Suns drafted 46th Overall in 1986 NBA Draft out of Iowa State University (1,077 Games, 14.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG) - The son of a basketball coach, Hornacek wasn't even given a scholarship to play college basketball and walked on to the Iowa State Cyclones' basketball team. However, shortly after being redshirted by Iowa State, Hornacek would begin to receive huge minutes and would lead Iowa State to the sweet sixteen in his senior season. Hornacek finished his colleigate career as the Big 8 all-time leader in assists. Hornacek would work his way into Phoenix's rotation and would become a legitimate star and scoring force for Phoenix during his stay there. One of the best pure shooters in the league's history, Hornacek would prove to be deadly from three point range and from the free throw line and would average 20 points a game in his last season with Phoenix. He would be traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Charles Barkley, but was moved to point guard and the transition was not met with much success. As a result, Philadelphia would trade Hornacek to the Utah Jazz where he could return to his shooting guard position. As a member of the Utah Jazz, Hornacek would prove to be a crucial player on two Western Conference Champion Jazz teams. After battling knee problems, Hornacek would retire from the NBA in 2000 and would have his jersey number retired by the Utah Jazz.

5) Mark Price, G, Dallas Mavericks drafted 25th Overall in 1986 NBA Draft out of Georgia Tech University (722 Games, 15.2 PPG, 6.7 APG, 2.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG) - Despite the fact that Price was an extremely successful player at the colleigate leve, his size and skill level was routinely criticized prior to the 1986 NBA Draft. As a result, Price was not taken in the first round and was instead selected as the first pick of the 2nd round. After being drafted by the Mavericks, Price's rights were immediately traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers who made Price their starting point guard in his second season and became a very successful Eastern Conference team. Known best for his fantastic shooting touch, Price finished his career with career averages of 90.4 % and 40 % from the free throw and three point line, respectively. Price would finish as Cleveland's franchise leader in assists and steals and was named an NBA All Star on four different occasions. Injuries started to plague Price at the end of his career and he was traded to the Washington Bullets in 1995. However, he would bounce around and play for four teams his final four seasons before retiring due to those injuries in 1998.

4) Anthony Mason, F, Portland Trail Blazers drafted 53rd Overall in 1988 NBA Draft out of Tennessee State University (882 Games, 10.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.4 APG) - Seen by many as too slow to play the small forward position and too small to play the power forward position, Mason was not drafted until the 53rd selection in the 1988 NBA draft, but would not last with the Portland Trail Blazers before being released. After being released, Mason played in the CBA, USBL, in Turkey and in Venezuela before coming back to the NBA and signing on with various teams, usually only lasting as a team's 12th man off the bench. Mason started to gain muscle and strength to make up for his lack of size and would sign with the New York Knicks in 1991. After signing with the Knicks, Pat Riley helped turn Mason into one of the most feared defenders in the NBA and he quickly blossomed in New York, becoming a key contributor on a team that went to the 1994 NBA Finals. In 1995, Mason would win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award before being traded to the Charlotte Hornets. While in Charlotte, Mason made an All NBA Third Team and also would routinely make NBA All Defensive Teams. Mason would reunite with Pat Riley in Miami and would help the Heat make the playoffs despite the kidney ailment to Alonzo Mourning that kept Mourning out of 69 games that season. Mason would end his career on a sour note, signing with Milwaukee and being blamed for many chemistry problems on that team. Mason would pubicly battle with coach George Karl and also struggle with his weight. The Bucks would miss the postseason that year and Mason would quickly be benched. He played one more season in Milwaukee but quietly retired in 2003.

3) Drazen Petrovic, G, Portland Trail Blazers drafted 60th Overall in 1986 NBA Draft out of Yugoslavia (290 Games, 15.4 PPG, 2.4 APG, 2.3 RPG) - Billed as a Yugoslavian Michael Jordan, Petrovic would turn pro for BC Sibenka at the age of 15 before having to leave for two years after turning 18 to serve in the military. Once his service was done, Petrovic would go on to to play for BC Cibona Zagreb and would win the European Cup Title. By the time he was drafted in 1986, Petrovic had already won an Olympic Bronze Medal and was already a national sensation. After signing with Portland in the 1988 offseason, the confident Petrovic boasted that a lack of playing time would be the only factor that could ruin his NBA experience. Sitting behind Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, Petrovic rarely played and the reigning European Player of the Year vocally spoke up about his lack of playing time. After demanding a trade, midway through his second season, Petrovic was traded to the New Jersey Nets where he took off. Petrovic would perform fine with increased minutes with New Jersey, but in his first full season with the Nets Petrovic averaged over 20 points a game and became an unstoppable offensive force. The year after, Petrovic again increased his scoring average and would shoot over 52 percent from the field and 45 percent from three point range. As a result, Petrovic was named to the All NBA Third Team. In the 1993 NBA offseason, rumor has it that Petrovic was unhappy with his teammates and was contemplating returning to Europe. However, at the age of 28, Petrovic would be killed in a car crash. Posthumuously, Petrovic was enducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

2) Dennis Rodman, F, Detroit Pistons drafted 27th Overall in 1986 NBA Draft out of Southeastern Oklahoma State University (911 Games, 7.3 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 1.8 APG ) - An eccentric personality with an even wilder game on the court, Dennis Rodman went from an offensively challenged athlete on Detroit's bench to their defensive force against all things offensively from the opposition. Very long and limber and an agile, graceful athlete, Rodman perfected the art of rebounding the basketball and took on the assignment of guarding the opposing team's best player, regardless of position, and did so better than anybody in the league. After winning two NBA Championships with the Detroit Pistons in 1989 and 1990, Rodman would go on to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award in two consecutive seasons, once in the Pistons' 1990 second championship season and again in 1991. After falling out of favor in Detroit due to the departure of Chuck Daily and alot of the original "Bad Boys", Rodman was traded to the San Antonio Spurs and began to become more of a sideshow than a player. While in San Antonio, he would start to trademarkedly dye his hair before every game and even dated Madonna, prompting the pop icon to appear at games at San Antonio's Alamodome. Due to the fact that San Antonio was a very conservative city and a very calm, quiet team, Rodmany openly clashed with David Robinson, Chuck Person and coach Brian Hill. As a result, Rodman was traded to the Chicago Bulls who, under coach Phil Jackson, found a way to tame Rodman and allow him to be himself as long as he was hisself on the court. Rodman would then become a starter on three additional championship teams for the Bulls, although some of his on court and off court shenangians continued to overshadow his play on the court. He had consecutive one year stints with the Lakers and Mavericks before dissapearing from the league in 2000.

1) Manu Ginobili, G, San Antonio Spurs drafted 57th Overall in 1999 NBA Draft out of Argentina (478 Games, 14.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.5 SPG) - In a story very similar to Petrovic's, Manu Ginobili was largely unknown when the Spurs took the Argentinan and Italian league star in the second round of the 1999 NBA Draft. Due to the fact that he was still under contract in Italy, Ginobili stayed in Europe and won the 2001 Italian Championship, 2001 and 2002 Italian Cups and the 2001 Euroleague while also being named the 2001 Euroleague's Final Four MVP. Ginobili then outshined the entire world in the 2002 FIBA World Championships and promptly signed in the 2002 offseason with the San Antonio Spurs. As a rookie, Ginobili immediately won fans over with his hustle, penchant for big plays and infectuous style of basketball and was the sixth man on a Spurs team that won it's second championship in franchise history. After resigning with the Spurs following his second season, Ginobili showed signs of becoming a breakout star. Annualy picking up his game in the postseason, Ginobili was arguably the Spurs best player during their 2005 NBA Championship Run and continued to take on the role of Sixth Man off the bench for the Spurs, winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2008. Ginobili continued to come up big for the Spurs in the postseason and won his third championship with San Antonio in 2007. Because of his style of play and age, Ginobili's body is already starting to show signs of slowing down but Ginobili himself won't. It'll be interesting to see how he comes back from injury, but Ginobili is arguably the best second round draft pick in NBA history.

 
 
 
 
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