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NBA Tier Power Rankings Week 2 (ext.) — October 25, 2018

NBA Tier Power Rankings Week 2 (ext.)

Week 1 was unexpected. Teams scored a LOT of points over the first week (and a half) of the season, and maybe that will slow down, but it’s disappointing seeing the lack of defense around the league this year. Still, I have to rank teams so here goes…

TIER 1: CONTENDERS

1. Warriors (L2- Den)
2. Raptors
3. Celtics (L4- Orl)
4. Rockets (L2- NO) (L3- LAC)
5. 76ers (L4- Det)

As you can see, the elite in the NBA didn’t have the greatest start. Not only were there some ugly losses (Boston to Orlando, Philadelphia to Detroit, Houston to New Orleans by 19), but there were also some near misses (Boston vs. New York, Philadelphia vs. Orlando). The last of this group to remain undefeated is surprisingly the new-look Raptors, who take over the #2 ranking almost by default.

TIER 2: PLAYOFF TEAMS (SORT OF)

6. Jazz (L3- Mem)
7. Bucks
8. Pelicans (W1- Hou)
9. Thunder (L3- LAC) (L5- Sac)
10. Nuggets (W1- GSW)
11. Pacers
12. Lakers
13. Wizards (L3- Mia)
14. Spurs
15. Blazers
16. T-Wolves (L4- Dal)

Two teams are moving: one up and one down. NEW ORLEANS. Has looked incredible. Elfrid Payton has been proving me wrong big time up to this point, averaging 14, 7, and 7. Niko Mirotic is averaging 28. Anthony Davis is getting 30 on 59% shooting. Julius Randle is at 19 and 9 off the bench. All this while Jrue Holiday sits at 0-14 from 3. Moving down: OKC. Losing to Golden State was a non-story. Losing to the Clippers was fine without Russell Westbrook. But losing to Sacramento, with Westbrook in the lineup, and giving up 131 points?! That’s not a good way to start off the season for the Thunder. For Minnesota: Giving up 140 to Dallas is pathetic under any circumstances; they (obviously) get no pass for missing Jimmy Butler. There shouldn’t be too much surprise or concern for the rest of tier 2, as most teams took care of business to start the season.

TIER 3: BUBBLE TEAMS

17. Clippers (W2- OKC) (W1- Hou)
18. Heat (L4- Orl) (W2- Was) (L4- Cha)
19. Grizzlies (W2- Uta)

Tier 3 did what Tier 3 does, as the 3 teams combined for 6 “surprising” outcomes to start the season. Miami opened the season losing to Orlando (tier 4), then beat Washington (tier 2), then lost to Charlotte (tier 4 again). The Clippers beat Houston and OKC, and held their own versus New Orleans and Denver, but I’m not quite ready to move them up to Tier 2. As for Memphis, they’ve already shown they can scare top-level teams with a big win over the Jazz.

TIER 4: RE-BUILDS AND THE LIKE

20. Hornets (W3- Mia)
21. Pistons (W1- Phi)
22. Magic (W3- Mia) (W1- Bos)
23. Mavericks (W2- Min)
24. Suns
25. Bulls
26. Cavaliers
27. Nets
28. Kings (W2- OKC)
29. Hawks (L5- NYK)
30. Knicks (W4- Atl)

The Hornets’ and Pistons’ strong starts have been fueled by the top two average scorers in the league thus far, Kemba Walker and Blake Griffin. Both teams will need their supporting pieces to step up at some point this season. Orlando has been impressive to start the season, much like last year, when they started 6-2 with wins over Miami, San Antonio and the LeBron Cavs. They finished 25-57, though. I’m moving up both Sacramento and New York. The Kings’ offense has been surprisingly good so far, and while the Knicks lack a marquee win, they’ve already played close with Boston and Milwaukee.

TIER 5: TANK CITY

Which leaves the bottom tier completely empty. The only winless teams remaining are the Lakers, OKC, Cleveland, and Chicago. Eventually, teams will drop back into tank mode, but for now, everyone’s still fighting.

Maybe we’ll start playing defense soon.

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2018-19 NBA Tier Power Rankings — October 16, 2018

2018-19 NBA Tier Power Rankings

2018-19 will be a weird year in the NBA. Things seem quieter than usual…

After a 2017 pre-season that saw Cleveland and Boston gearing up for battle, Kyrie Irving quickly gaining camaraderie with his new teammates (#3 pick Jayson Tatum in tow), Cleveland fans wondering if somehow their new team was good enough to keep LeBron around… in the West, Houston and OKC were adding superstars in hopes they could knock off the Warriors (Chris Paul to Houston, PG and Melo to OKC), the rising Wolves had added Jimmy Butler, and the Nuggets had added Paul Millsap…

2018 was quieter. I’ll start by saying that LeBron signing with the Lakers was a huge move long-term for the league. It opens up what could be a fantastic rivalry for a long time between Boston and Philadelphia, and if Kawhi ends up staying in Toronto, they’ll be in the mix as well. The Lakers will be at the center of every free agency from now until LeBron retires or leaves. But, in the short term, we are left with a league that is Golden State’s, everyone else simply lurking in the grass. What teams could have made major moves ended up staying put for the most part, and now we wait.

2017-18 was a season of discovery for many NBA franchises. We learned which newly-assembled teams were for real and which were not, saw many young stars emerge, and watched as top teams (Cleveland, San Antonio) fell out of the running and others (Philadelphia, Utah) replaced them. I would expect to see less turnover in the standings this year, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We might see more competitive basketball, especially amongst playoff teams that now know what they are.

So all this will make grouping teams into tiers less exciting, seeing as most teams will simply retain their tier from the end of last year, but exciting nonetheless.

I power rank using tiers because it helps show how good a team is actually playing; power rankings do little to note the amount of space between, for instance, #16 and #20. While power rankings would have you believe they’re not far apart (4 teams), tiers could show you that the difference is indeed significant (2 tiers). It also helps me personally to  distinguish which game results are significant. Teams should beat teams of lower tiers. So, instead of over-reacting to a Tier 2 losing to another Tier 2 team, I’ll give greater significance to that Tier 2 team losing to a team from Tier 3 or 4, or a Tier 1 team losing to a Tier 2, etc. etc.. Without further ado…

TIER 1: CONTENDERS

1. Golden State Warriors
2. Boston Celtics
3. Houston Rockets
4. Philadelphia 76ers
5. Toronto Raptors

(The season is just starting, so I’ll start by making some notes on my beginning tiers, why I grouped in such a way, and which teams I’m excited to watch this year.)

…This top-tier is pretty self-explanatory. The Warriors are the Warriors, opening the season as ridiculous 1/2 favorites to win the title. That leaves a 33% chance that another team could beat them, and I think these are the teams to do it. I don’t consider Carmelo Anthony an upgrade over the combo of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, but Houston took GSW to 7 games last year. Out East, Boston is absolutely stacked, and Toronto and Philadelphia look surprisingly well-rounded and deep. If GSW gets hit by injuries, those conference championships are going to be insane.

TIER 2: PLAYOFF TEAMS (SORT OF)

6. Utah Jazz
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Milwaukee Bucks
9. Indiana Pacers
10. Los Angeles Lakers
11. Denver Nuggets
12. San Antonio Spurs
13. New Orleans Pelicans
14. Portland Trailblazers
15. Washington Wizards
16. Minnesota Timberwolves

Now we get to the tier-iest of tiers. With the exception of Utah and Oklahoma City, who are hard to leave out of the top 8 or 9, teams in Tier 2 are essentially interchangeable. I wouldn’t be surprised if this deck of cards shuffled and re-shuffled itself 5 times in the first 5 weeks, because they really are so close together. I could see Utah or Oklahoma City jumping up into the top tier at some point. Otherwise, I’m looking forward to seeing Indiana, Milwaukee and Washington clinching the East playoffs early, and the rest of the West teams (3-10 West) battling it out! Some quick notes: I like Milwaukee a lot this year; I think Brook Lopez will be a stabilizing piece on both ends. If Jimmy Butler gets traded, Minnesota moves up in the rankings, not down. I like the Spurs to at least make the playoffs.

TIER 3: BUBBLE TEAMS

17. Miami Heat
18. Memphis Grizzlies
19. Los Angeles Clippers

Bubble teams: teams that could beat or lose to anybody on any given night. Miami seems to have been here since LeBron left in 2014. They’re solid, they’re young, they should be in the playoffs, they just aren’t going to wow anybody. In the West, you have Memphis and the Clippers. I’m high on Memphis and their blend of veterans and young talent. The Clippers lost DeAndre Jordan, but added some firepower along with defensive gem Luc Mbah a Moute. Like Miami, they should be in the playoffs, but unfortunately they and the Grizzlies play in the other conference.

TIER 4: RE-BUILDS AND THE LIKE

20. Charlotte Hornets
21. Detroit Pistons
22. Dallas Mavericks
23. Chicago Bulls
24. Cleveland Cavaliers
25. Brooklyn Nets
26. Phoenix Suns
27. Atlanta Hawks
28. Orlando Magic

There are four teams (Memphis, Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago) that tanked in 2017-18, drafted high (Jaren Jackson, DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Wendell Carter), then added major players in the offseason (Gasol/Conley, Trevor Ariza, DeAndre Jordan, Jabari Parker). That makes for a pretty competitive fourth tier in 2018-19. I would expect this tier to shrink as the season goes along. Teams will either hit a groove and enter the bubble tier, or they will hit a wall and go into tank mode. Nonetheless, there’s a lot more talent in this tier than there was a year ago. Let’s play some basketball! (Not to be ignored, at least one team from Tier 4 will make the playoffs. No offense to Charlotte or Detroit, but it would be awesome to see Chicago or Brooklyn sneak in there.)

TIER 5: TANK CITY!

29. Sacramento Kings
30. New York Knicks

I mean, someone has to tank. Like I said, this tier will fill up, but as the season starts I’m already finding it hard to imagine either Sacramento or New York will be competitive.

2018 NBA Draft: WINNERS — June 24, 2018

2018 NBA Draft: WINNERS

WINNERS

Luka Doncic –  Doncic must feel on top of the world right now. At 19 years old, days after leading Real Madrid to an ACB championship, a month after becoming the youngest ever Euroleague MVP, he’s now headed to the Dallas Mavericks… where he’ll team up with sophomore Dennis Smith Jr. to form one of the most exciting backcourts in the league. Rather than a first-year coach in Atlanta or Memphis, he’ll get the legend Rick Carlisle. And he’ll play alongside the legend, Dirk Nowitzki… If any fan base is going to get behind a European phenom from the get-go, it’s Dallas. And this is a team that’s looking to win now. All eyes will be on Doncic and the Mavs this year.

San Antonio Spurs – Just go ahead and pencil the Spurs in here every time. Lonnie Walker IV fell to San Antonio at #18 with a lot of teams worried about his health, but he was a top-10 level talent. Something tells me that he’ll fight off the injuries and out-perform his draft position. Maybe it’s just that he was picked by the Spurs, and yes it is.

Boston Celtics – Ditto.

Utah Jazz – The Jazz are winners in this not because of whom they picked at #21 (although Grayson Allen should be a nice addition to their rotation), but because of the class act their young star, Donavan Mitchell, showed in being there for his new teammate. Mitchell was in the Green Room on draft night, and was one of the first to embrace and congratulate Allen on being drafted by the Jazz. This is something that more NBA players should do! Mitchell has taken his new leadership role and run with it… Things are getting exciting in Utah.

Denver Nuggets – This one should come as no surprise. Everyone knows the potential Michael Porter Jr. has. They also know by now that he’s a huge injury risk. Denver saw that potential at #14 and knew they needed to take a chance in this draft, after trading away the aforementioned Donavan Mitchell last year. If Porter can stay healthy, he’ll help to alleviate some of that pain.

 

 

 

NBA Power Rankings w/ Tiers, ft. the Orlando Magic — October 22, 2017

NBA Power Rankings w/ Tiers, ft. the Orlando Magic

When I’m on an NBA high like I am right now, I’m going to be checking the scores (and the box scores) of every game, every night. The result, on a nightly basis: knee-jerk reactions based on every game (wait, the Jazz beat the Thunder AND the Nuggets, and the Timberwolves beat the Jazz… the Timberwolves are SO GOOD!) when in reality, it’s a long season, teams are ‘on’ and ‘off’ every other night. So how are you supposed to figure out which results matter and which don’t? TIERS!!

So basically what I did is I broke the league up into 6 tiers (contenders, almost contenders, middle of the pack, etc.) and looked for games in which a team from a lower tier beat a team from a higher tier… showing me of the 37 game results so far, the 6 results that mattered. Nets beat Magic, Magic beat Heat, Magic beat Cavaliers, Grizzlies beat Warriors, Jazz beat Thunder, Bucks beat Celtics… In my opinion those are the games that should have opened some eyes- the games in which a lesser team beat someone they weren’t supposed to beat.

Here are the tiers, the way I see it…

Tier 1: Contenders

1. WARRIORS (L3 Grizz)

2. CAVALIERS (L4 Magic)

3. ROCKETS

4. THUNDER (L2)

5. SPURS

6. RAPTORS

7. CELTICS (L2)

This tier is pretty consensus, although the Raptors might count as a new addition with the way their offense has looked to start the season. #s 2-5 have a shot at the Warriors, Celtics and Raptors maybe not so much but they do have a shot to the win the East.

Tier 2: Teams that can beat anybody, but not quite contenders

8. TIMBERWOLVES

9. WIZARDS

10. BUCKS (W1)

11. BLAZERS

12. NUGGETS

13. JAZZ (W1)

Six dangerous young teams with talent and an identity… I was on the fence about the Jazz but they locked up the Thunder and held their own against tier 2 teams (Denver and Minnesota). Wizards and Bucks are both in that Eastern Conference 4-5 seed safe zone; nothing to lose, everything to gain.

Tier 3: Middle-of-the-Pack

14. CLIPPERS

15. GRIZZLIES (W1)

16. HEAT (L4)

I thought about putting teams 14-21 all in tier 3, but I think LA, Memphis and Miami deserve better. I’m putting LA and Memphis at #9 and #10 in the West but they’ll battle for those last two seeds. All three from Tier 3 have the potential to jump up into Tier 2.

Tier 4: Playoff Hopefuls and the Pelicans

17. PELICANS

18. HORNETS

19. SIXERS

20. PISTONS

21. MAGIC (W3) (L5) (W1)

Even if Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins can figure it out, Jrue Holiday is inconsistent and the Pelicans don’t have much else. It feels like 18-21 is basically a pick-two grab bag for the playoffs as it stands right now. Like I said in the intro, Orlando beating two higher-tier teams (Miami and Cleveland) should open some eyes; but until they prove it, I still have them behind Philly and Detroit in the playoff race.

Tier 5: Re-building Projects

22. PACERS

23. LAKERS

24. KINGS

25. NETS (W4)

Too much talent to go tank-mode, but they’re obviously in a re-building state.

Tier 6: Tank City!

26. MAVERICKS

27. HAWKS

28. KNICKS

29. SUNS

30. BULLS

Of the Mavs’ top 5 in PPG, one is Harrison Barnes and the rest are point guards. Even Dennis Smith Jr. can’t prevent the inevitable in Dallas. Same deal with Dennis Schroder in Atlanta, Kristaps Porzingis in New York, Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix, and Robin Lopez?? in Chicago.

 

 

Football Season — July 21, 2015

Football Season

I’m a basketball guy. I love basketball. But there’s just something about being an American that draws me to football.

As we go deeper into July and begin to realize just how close we are to football season, I’m sitting here wondering why this sport isn’t played everywhere. I mean, I know in a lot of third-world countries all the helmets and pads are just too expensive… but not even some of the richest countries in the world play football. Is it just because Americans are stupid? I mean, it is a pretty dangerous sport… but so is rugby. It just seems strange to me that no one plays American football except Americans.

Maybe that’s why we love it so much. Because it’s OUR game. It reminds us of the tough, blue collared people who built our country. You have to be tough to play football. I think we also love it because it’s the best TEAM sport. Sure, the quarterback gets a ton of credit for a team’s success, but anyone who knows football knows it all starts with the battle on the line of scrimmage. Everyone on the field has a crucial role. It’s all about schemes, teamwork and communication.

Football can bring groups of people together the way no other sport can. Football is a pride thing. My school is better than yours because we have a better football team. Who cares if you have a better basketball team? For instance, just think about the atmosphere at a high school football game on a Friday night. It’s awesome. I mean, baseball and basketball games are fun, but the atmosphere at those games is nothing compared to the feeling at a football game under the lights.

By the way, if you’re bored and looking for a good sports movie, watch InvincibleIt’s a great movie. Seriously.

There are so many great things about football… 7-on-7 pickup games. Thanksgiving Day. College Gameday. The NFL Playoffs. The Super Bowl. The Buffalo Bills’ uniforms. Adrian Peterson. Auburn-Alabama games. Like this one. High school football. The College Football playoff. SNOW GAMES. And the list goes on…

Like I said, I’m a basketball guy, but its almost football season and I can’t wait.

NBA Draft Winners and Losers — June 29, 2015

NBA Draft Winners and Losers

Winners:

Minnesota Timberwolves– Here’s what the Wolves will look like next year: Two future stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, an exciting point guard in Ricky Rubio, experienced veterans Kevin Martin and either Pekovic or Garnett rounding out the starting five, with Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, and now hometown boy Tyus Jones coming off the bench. The Wolves added two good, young players who also fit in perfectly with their roster.

Miami Heat– Justise Winslow… the Knicks thought about picking him at #4. The Magic probably should have picked him at #5, but instead took the European Mario Hezonja. The Kings went for Willie Cauley-Stein over Winslow, which makes absolutely no sense to me unless DeMarcus Cousins is on his way out. Then Winslow just kept on falling… Denver took Emmanuel Mudiay, Detroit took Stanley Johnson (might be one of the worst picks I’ve ever seen), Charlotte took Frank Kaminsky, and that’s how a Kawhi Leonard/Paul George-type player miraculously fell into Pat Riley’s lap at #10.

Denver Nuggets– I absolutely love Emannuel Mudiay on the Nuggets. I really didn’t think he would fall past the Kings, but he did and the Nuggets jumped on him. Mudiay is a great player for the Nuggets to re-build their franchise around.

 

Losers:

Everyone Involved in Philadelphia– D’Angelo Russell was the guy the Sixers wanted. That was their plan when they traded away Michael Carter-Williams at the trade deadline. Instead, the Lakers nabbed Russell and the Sixers picked a true center at #3 for the second straight year. Concerns about Joel Embiid’s injury became real when the Sixers picked Okafor. Nerlens Noel and Dario Saric now have to seriously start worrying about playing time and job security. And now Okafor has to forget about the lights of Los Angeles and head towards the uncertainty and confusion awaiting him in Philadelphia.

Detroit Pistons– Stanley Johnson over Justise Winslow?? Seriously?? The Pistons’ front office is a joke.

Sacramento Kings– Again, the Kings picking Willie Cauley-Stein over both Winslow AND Mudiay only makes sense to me if Cousins is on his way out. If that’s the case, then the Kings are still losers.

 

 

What if the 2014 Draft Class Wasn’t All That Overrated? — May 25, 2015

What if the 2014 Draft Class Wasn’t All That Overrated?

Injured/ Didn’t come over from Croatia – Parker, Embiid, Randle, Saric

Weren’t Supposed to be Good Right Away – Exum, Vonleh

Played Well – Wiggins, Smart

Played Not So Well – Gordon, Stauskas

That’s the top 10.

Let’s start with the disappointing players. Jabari was a little disappointing when he played but most of the other rookies got a lot better in the second half of the season. Aaron Gordon only played 47 games and was not expected to be a scorer right away. He still could be a really good player. It’s a joke that Nik Stauskas was even picked in the top 10.

Marcus Smart’s team went from a 25-win team last year, to a 40-win playoff team this year. The Jazz went 24-16 after Dante Exum replaced Trey Burke in the starting lineup. Those two didn’t put up big stats but drew positive reviews from most analysts. Smart is going to be a very good point guard. Exum still has a ton of potential.

Believe it or not, Wiggins lived up to the hype. He scored 16.9 points per game on .437 shooting, which was even better than most people expected for him as a rookie. Remember, Wiggins didn’t really start playing well until after Jabari Parker got injured. Joel Embiid would have been the #1 pick ahead of Wiggins had he not gotten injured. Smart and Exum could be top 15 point guards in a few years, which is saying something given how PG-loaded the league is. And the rest who struggled still have plenty of time to turn things around.

2015 NBA Mock Draft (1-14) — May 23, 2015

2015 NBA Mock Draft (1-14)

This draft has a lot of solid prospects in the lottery, but when you get to the 17-18 range there’s not a whole lot of good picks left in my opinion. So I’m not even going to bother with the second half of the first round. Here’s my mock draft as it stands, knowing there’s probably going to be some trades which might shake things up…

1 Minnesota: Karl-Anthony Towns, PF/C, Kentucky – The Wolves first ever #1 pick came at the perfect time. They have the opportunity to choose between two great big man prospects in Towns and Okafor, and I think they’re going to go with Towns. I love Okafor as a low post scorer, but Towns has the potential to become a much more complete player. He’s also a great fit for the Wolves offensively and defensively.

2 LA Lakers: Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke – I really like Jahlil Okafor, and I think he’s going to be a star. He’s already a great low post scorer with a good combination of strength and finesse. With some work there’s no reason he can’t become a solid defender, although he won’t be much of a shot blocker. A frontcourt of Jahlil Okafor and Julius Randle might have trouble with rim protection, but they could be scary offensively.

3 Philadelphia: D’Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State – And here’s match made in heaven #2… D’Angelo Russell and Joel Embiid! I was hoping the Sixers would have the chance to draft Russell because him and Embiid is just perfect. If Embiid can stay relatively healthy, I think he’s going to be the best center in the NBA down the road (ahead of the two guys listed above). With all the frontcourt prospects the Sixers already have, their ideal prospect would be a point guard to get them the ball, or a great shooter to space the floor. Russell is both.

4 New York: Justise Winslow, SF, Duke – Phil Jackson told season ticket holders he would like to draft an elite defender and look for a point guard in free agency. Justise Winslow is my favorite player in the draft. He’s also an elite defender, and he was seen hanging out with Melo recently. The one question mark for him is his shooting. He shot 42% from 3 at Duke, but on just 2.8 attempts per game, and he shot 64% on free throws. Other than that, he’s a great athlete with a great feel for the game. But watch out for a Ty Lawson trade…

5 Orlando: Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia –  Ah, Kristaps. I’m basically basing this off reports that teams are considering him in the top 3, and that he’s a “lock for the top 5”. Would Orlando really take Emmanuel Mudiay when they already have Elfrid Payton? I don’t think so. Porzingis seems like a good fit as a stretch 4, as long as Aaron Gordon can play the 3. I’ve seen comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol.

6 Sacramento: Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, DR Congo –  This would be the dream scenario for the Kings. From what I’ve seen, Mudiay has all the tools to be a good point guard. But it might take some time. He’s not a great shooter, and although he’s a really good athlete, he’s not quite as explosive as Russell Westbrook or John Wall. But scouts really like his ability to get to the rim and create offense. The Kings really need a point guard, and should be ecstatic if Mudiay falls to them.

7 Denver: Mario Hezonja, SG/SF, Croatia – I don’t know where the Nuggets are going with their re-build, but the top two options are probably Hezonja and Willie Cauley-Stein. I like WCS as a defender, but the Nuggets already have Jusuf Nurkic at center. Hezonja is another European I don’t really know much about, but it looks like he’s an athletic scorer with a high basketball IQ, and he’ll at least give the Nuggets another shooter.

8 Detroit: Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky – I decided to give the Pistons Trey Lyles, who in my opinion is very underrated. If he had gone anywhere besides Kentucky he would’ve been a star as a freshman. Even at Kentucky we saw glimpses of a smooth post/mid-range game and a solid jump shot. He’s not necessarily the stretch 4 the Pistons want, but I think he’s going to be good.

9 Charlotte: Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky – Finally Cauley-Stein goes off the board to the Hornets. What Charlotte really, really needs this offseason is shooting. So they could go with a guy like Devin Booker, who would be a good shooter off the bench. Or they could take Cauley-Stein, who’s talented enough to go top 5. I’ll take the top 5 guy any day of the week, no matter what position he plays. Cauley-Stein is known for his elite defense. He’s a great shot blocker (2.9 blocks per game as a sophomore) who could also legitimately guard 2’s. I think his best comparison is DeAndre Jordan.

10 Miami: Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona – Luol Deng is a free agent, and even if he stays the Heat could use an athletic defender who’s ready to play right away and should become a solid starting SF whenever Deng leaves. I’ll admit I barely watched Stanley Johnson at all this season, so I don’t really know.

11 Indiana: Myles Turner, PF, Texas – Stretch 4. Rim protector. That’s what teams in the NBA want nowadays, and that’s what Turner is projected to be. He’s going to take a while to develop, but eventually could be David West’s replacement at PF.

12 Utah: Kelly Oubre, SG/SF, Kansas – At this point in the draft teams really start drafting for need, but the Jazz have depth at every position. Kelly Oubre looks like a project, but he’s young, athletic, and has potential to become a solid 3 and D player.

13 Phoenix: Frank Kaminsky, PF/C, Wisconsin – Kaminsky can shoot, rebound, and block shots. He’s also a lot more athletic than he looks. The Suns could use a possible replacement for Channing Frye.

14 Oklahoma City: Cameron Payne, PG, Murray State – Payne has been rising up the draft boards. He’s a crafty point guard who knows how to get into the paint and make things happen. He could become a solid backup point guard for the Thunder.

The Truth about Ricky Rubio — May 16, 2015

The Truth about Ricky Rubio

Those who know me know that I’m a huge Ricky Rubio fan. I’ve been a Rubio fan since the first game he played in the NBA… He’s got great energy, he plays hard, and I’ve never seen a better passer. I absolutely love Ricky Rubio. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the significant and obvious weaknesses in his game…

He can’t shoot. He’s not very athletic. He’s injury prone.

It took me too long to realize that for these reasons, he’s never going to be a great point guard.

A while back I made a bet with my brother that Ricky Rubio would be an All-Star in five years. Now, I know it hasn’t been five years yet, but I think I’m just gonna take the loss on that one. Rubio is never going to be able to compete with Damian Lillard or Russell Westbrook. He’s a great passer, but his shooting has been historically bad in recent years. Every time you think he’s about to turn the corner, he gets hurt again. And even his defense is overrated by a lot of people. Defense isn’t all about steals. If you actually watch him play, you see him constantly getting beat by quicker guards. He can’t shoot, he’s not very athletic, he’s injury prone, and he gets beat defensively. So have I given up on Ricky Rubio?

Absolutely not.

Because even if he can’t be a great point guard, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a good one. He’s definitely not good in some aspects of the game, but he’s great in other ways… No, he’s never going to be a good shooter, but he makes all the shooters around him better. Yes, he gets beat by quicker point guards, but he also led the league in steals a year ago. No, you don’t want him on the floor in crunch time, but yes, you do want him on the floor every other time.

Timberwolves fans need to quit complaining about Ricky Rubio. I’ve heard some people say that you can’t win in today’s NBA without an elite point guard. And they’re not crazy. The Warriors have Stephen Curry, the Cavs have Kyrie Irving, the Spurs have Tony Parker, etc. Most of the top teams in the NBA have an elite point guard. But not all of them.

How about the Heat? They won 2 championships with Mario Chalmers… Okay. Fine. They had LeBron James… How about the Pacers, who took Miami to 7 games back in 2013 and then had the best record in the East in 2014? Their point guard was George Hill, who is the definition of ‘eh‘.  I mean, if that word was in the dictionary…

eh

George Hill.

But back to Rubio… At the start of the ’13-’14 season, the Wolves were actually pretty good. They started 7-4 and they seriously looked like they could be competitive in the West. But instead, they limped along toward a 40-42 season. They ended up missing the playoffs. Kevin Love became frustrated and eventually asked to be traded in the off-season. Why?

People look to blame someone, and Rubio is the easiest choice because of his shooting. Which isn’t fair. Talk about his shooting all you want, but plain and simple, the Wolves are better with Rubio on the floor. According to sportingcharts.com, Rubio was 15th in the league in overall +/- that year. The Wolves outscored their opponents by 379 points (4.6 points per game) when Ricky Rubio was on the floor. He had the highest plus-minus of anyone on the Wolves, and he was the only one of the top 20 in the NBA on a team with less than 50 wins. (Disclaimer: He played 82 games, which is good, but that definitely helps him in +/- compared to other players who might have missed games.)

There were a lot of factors that led to the Wolves underachieving that year, including an extremely stacked Western Conference. The Wolves could’ve been good that year. They just weren’t.

I think the real concern with Rubio isn’t his shooting, it’s his injuries. He tore his ACL as a rookie, and he’s had nagging leg injuries ever since.

But when you look back, it hasn’t really been that bad. He missed the end of his rookie year and the start of his sophomore year with an ACL, then he played all 82 games in his third season. This past year, he badly sprained his left ankle in November, came back in February, and re-injured it in March. But I doubt that the injury was really that serious. The Wolves didn’t necessarily want Rubio to be on the floor reducing their lottery chances too much.

Some people are concerned by Rubio’s shooting percentage this past year. His shot looked like it had improved, but he shot .356, compared to .380 last year. I’m not worried about that. He looked like he was forcing up shots just to get more practice shooting in games. His 3-point attempts went up to 2.3 per game from 1.6 the past two years. That’s unrealistic. In fact, as the Wolves get better, I would expect him to shoot less and less. He’s not a scorer. On a good team, he won’t have to look for his own shot. He’s not a terrible 3-point shooter, and every year he’s going to get better at finishing inside. Give him a few years, and he’ll be a point guard who can lead the Wolves to a championship. I believe in Rubio.

The stats don’t tell the whole story with a guy like Ricky Rubio. He affects the game in ways you can’t see in a box score. Cliché, but it’s true (which is a cliché). At the end of the day, all that matters is scoring more points than the other team (triple cliché). And it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s all about how you play the game. Wait, what. Okay.

Oh, by the way, the Wolves outscored their opponents by 379 points when Rubio was on the floor. In case you were wondering, here’s #1-14 in 2013-’14 +/-… Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, David Lee, Chris Bosh, Manu Ginobili, James Harden, LeBron James, David West, Serge Ibaka.

You know you want to love Rubio. He might be the most enjoyable player to watch in the NBA. He plays hard, he’s got a high basketball IQ (am I using the right accent over the é?), and he does things like this. And this. And this.

Ricky Rubio is not a scorer, and he never will be. So what? He’s a point guard, and he’s a pretty solid point guard… People always think someone’s either great or they’re garbage. Maybe with Rubio especially because of his style of play. Rubio is not an elite point guard. But he’s also not bad. He’s a good point guard. So JUMP OFF THE HATE TRAIN, quit whining, and enjoy Rubio for the player that he is.

How Each Top 4 Draft Prospect Would Fit with the Wolves — May 9, 2015

How Each Top 4 Draft Prospect Would Fit with the Wolves

It seems every year, the draft lottery brings nothing but disappointment to Minnesota Timberwolves fans. If you don’t know what I mean, this article pretty much sums it up. This year, the Wolves were the league’s worst team, so they have the best chance to win the lottery. But we all know that doesn’t really matter. It’s the Wolves… Sure, it would be nice to get the top pick. But let’s be honest. It’s not going to happen.

Even if we don’t end up with the #1 pick, Wolves fans should have a reason to be excited no matter what happens on May 19th. Because even if everything goes wrong (which it will), the worst that could possibly happen is that we pick #4. And I would be okay with that, because right now I see four players in this draft who would be great picks for the Wolves:

Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell, and Justise Winslow.

The Current Team

I’m a huge believer in Ricky Rubio. I love how he impacts the game, and I believe we can build a championship team with him at point guard. So I would say that right now, the Wolves have 2 “cornerstone” pieces in Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins, and 9 players who seem to be in their future plans. Here’s a list of those 9 players and what I would expect the depth chart to look like heading into the draft:

PG: Rubio                                                                                                                                                                                               SG: Martin    LaVine                                                                                                                                                                     SF: Wiggins  Muhammad                                                                                                                                                             PF: Garnett  Payne                                                                                                                                                                         C:   Pekovic   Dieng

In my opinion, the top 4 prospects in the draft are Towns, Okafor, Russell, and Winslow. PG Emmanuel Mudiay and PF Kristaps Porzingis from Latvia are also in the discussion, but neither one has really proven himself against elite competition. At the end of the day, I don’t expect Flip Saunders to take any unnecessary risks. The Wolves will probably end up with either Towns, Okafor, Russell, or Winslow. Here’s how each of them would fit with the Wolves:

Karl-Anthony Towns

I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to have the #1 pick. Towns is most likely going to be the #1 pick, and he’s also an absolutely perfect fit with the Wolves. He’s a 7 foot forward/center hybrid who has a lot of versatility.

The Wolves are built to run, and Towns is fast. The Wolves need a shot blocker, and Towns is a shot blocker. It would be nice for the Wolves to open up the paint for Rubio and Wiggins to attack, and Towns has the potential to be a very good shooter. One of the negatives on Towns is that he might need some time to develop, but the Wolves have time. They also have KG who would be a great mentor for Towns. Rubio, Wiggins, and Towns would make an awesome Big 3.

If Towns were to go to the Wolves, he would probably start at power forward with either Gorgui Dieng or Nikola Pekovic at center. But I would expect him to move around a lot between the 4 and the 5 as a rookie. He could play with any of the Wolves other bigs (Dieng, Pekovic, Garnett, Payne). I would also expect to see him in a lot of different roles within the offense (high post, low post, pick and roll). I would love to see him work the high post, low post game with Kevin Garnett next year… Depending on how they play together, the frontcourt of the future could be either Towns and Dieng, or Towns and Payne. Dieng is going to be a good, balanced center. Payne could be a really solid stretch 4 if his shot developed. Either way, Towns would be the ideal pick for Minnesota.

Jahlil Okafor

Even though Okafor isn’t as good a fit as Towns, he would still be a great addition to the Wolves. I really think he’s going to be a star in the NBA. He’s big, strong, highly skilled, and has a lot more athleticism than he’s given credit for. He would give the Wolves a second legitimate go-to scorer along with Wiggins. And even when neither of them is on, Rubio would keep the offense running smoothly. Okafor would give the Wolves one of the most dynamic offenses in the NBA.

If the Wolves drafted Okafor, they would have to make some roster tweaks. First of all, an Okafor-Dieng or an Okafor-Pekovic frontcourt doesn’t make very much sense, forcing both Pekovic and Dieng to the bench. I think the Wolves would end up keeping Pekovic and trading Dieng. This wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world because Dieng is a good, young player with a cheap contract. They might be able to get something like a lottery pick back for him. Secondly, the Wolves would want to make some changes to get better defensively. Okafor might eventually become a solid defender, but he doesn’t look like he’ll ever be much of a shot blocker. Maybe the Wolves could look for a defensive specialist at PF and some “3 and D” wings to help solve their defensive issues.

Even next year, a lineup of Rubio, Martin, Wiggins, Garnett and Okafor looks pretty good. They might even be a surprise team in the West. There would eventually have to be some changes with the players around Rubio, Wiggins and Okafor, but they could definitely make it work. And KG would also be a great mentor for Okafor.

D’Angelo Russell

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not Rubio and Russell could play together. At first it seems like it wouldn’t work. They’re both ball-dominant point guards. Rubio can’t shoot. They might have some trouble defensively… But then you look at last year’s Suns. They went 48-34 with a similar combination of guards in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. They were arguably the most exciting team in the NBA. Maybe the T-Wolves could make it work.

The other thing you have to consider is that the Wolves still have Zach LaVine and Kevin Martin, which might create a little bit of a logjam at guard. We’d probably have to dump Kevin Martin to free up playing time for LaVine. So I broke down how the rotation would work with Rubio, Russell, and LaVine.

During regulation there’s 96 minutes of playing time in the backcout (PG and SG). If you divide that time evenly between Rubio, Russell and LaVine, each player gets 32 minutes (Rubio averaged 31.5 minutes per game last year). Rubio gets 32 minutes at PG, LaVine gets 32 minutes at SG, and Russell gets 16 at PG and 16 at SG. That gives you 16 minutes of Rubio-Russell, 16 minutes of Rubio-LaVine, and 16 minutes of Russell-LaVine. So ideally, Rubio and Russell only have to play together for 16 minutes a game.

On paper, it looks like it could work. Then it just comes down to chemistry issues. Both Rubio and Russell would have to make sacrifices. So would Zach LaVine.

The good thing is that the Wolves would have flexibility. In the worst case scenario, they might have to trade away Rubio. That would definitely be disappointing, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. If I had to choose a player to replace Rubio, it would be Russell. He’s a baller. Offensively, he might not be as good a passer as Rubio, but he can create his own shot and spot up. He would really be an ideal teammate for Andrew Wiggins. He would not only be able to find Wiggins on cuts to the basket, but he would also be able to draw the defense away from Wiggins with his shooting ability.

Justise Winslow

If D’Angelo Russell is Andrew Wiggins’ ideal teammate, than Justise Winslow is Rubio’s ideal teammate. He would help create the type of team that Rubio wants to lead… one with swarming perimeter defense, fast breaks, alley-oops, and lots of energy. I could just see Rubio, Wiggins, and Winslow getting after it on defense, getting steals, and getting out on the break all game long.

Winslow is a great athlete at small forward, he can shoot, slash, he’s smart and he’s a good passer, and he’s a great on-ball defender. He’s only 19 years old, and he looks like someone that could also become a good one-on-one scorer. He has all the tools to be an All-Star.

If the Wolves picked Winslow, he would play small forward and Wiggins would slide over to shooting guard, creating a serious matchup nightmare. Wiggins has already shown the ability to post up on smaller guards, and Winslow would also be a tough cover for a 2. They would also be great defensively. And don’t forget about Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad coming off the bench. They’re set at center with Gorgui Dieng and Nikola Pekovic. If they could add a good stretch 4 in free agency, this team could win a championship.

So…

With all that in mind, my draft board goes Towns, Okafor, Winslow, Russell. The fourth pick would be good. Winslow will probably still be there at #4. The third pick would be better. The second pick would be awesome.