Wednesday, June 28, 2006

NBA Draft Winners, Losers, and Steals

The Draft just ended, but I have to throw down my immediate thoughts on the action.


- Memphis. I'm not a Rudy Gay fan, but the Grizzlies still had a great draft. To bring back Swift, snag a guy that was at one time the top player on the board, pick up Kyle Lowry (will end up being the best PG in this draft), and then top it off by absolutely stealing Alexander Johnson (should have gone in the top 20) ... that is an unbelievable night. Prediction: Memphis will not be swept in the playoffs next year.

- Portland. When was the last time the Blazers had a good draft? It's been so long that the ESPN crew didn't realize the shift and kept berating them like it was 2000-2005. It was amazing to sit there and listen to Greg Anthony and Stephen A. Smith criticize Portland after they had made some impressive moves. To turn the #4 pick and Sebastian Freaking Telfair into Aldridge and Roy is some amazing work. Throw in Dritz's boy Freeland and Spanish Chocolate and the Blazers are finally showing signs of life. I really think they got the two best players (at least for the short term) in the draft.

- Cleveland. For a team with a late first round pick and a second round pick, the Cavs hit this one out of the park. Daniel Gibson underachieved last year at Texas, but there's a reason he was once a top five projected pick - he can play. The knock on him is that he's not a pure point, but when you have LeBron, the reality is that he's going to initiate the offense most of the time anyway. I think Gibson is a fantastic pick. And don't even get me started on Shannon Brown. I LOVE this guy. My brother, Drew, said the other day that all he wanted from this draft was for the Cavs to get Brown. Mission accomplished. The Cavs just gained 7 wins by drafting these guys. Goodbye Eric Snow crunchtime minutes, goodbye Flip Murray bricks.

- Chicago. I like the Thomas pick (and the fact that they manipulated Portland for an extra player in the process), but what I really like is the fact that adding Tyrus to the roster allows them to shop Tyson Chandler and his faulty back. If they can turn Chandler and one of their three small guards into a legit low-post scorer, they could move into the top four in the East next year. The Hinrich-Deng-Thomas trio is an incredible and youthful base and with all that cap space, Chicago is poised to be really, really good in the near future. Three years ago they had to live with the fact that they screwed up what could have been an Elton Brand-Brad Miller-Ron Artest-Jason Richardson-Kirk Hinrich lineup and were staring into an abyss. It's hard to believe that they have recovered so quickly.

- Houston. People were killing the Gay-for-Battier trade, but I thought it was a good move for the Rockets. They got rid of Swift, which is nice because it will allow Van Gundy to avoid the inevitable manslaughter indictment that was looming on the horizon. They turned the eighth pick in what has been repeatedly called a weak draft into a legit NBA role player that will serve as a perfect compliment to T-Mac and Yao. Seriously, if you could pick the perfect guy to insert into that lineup, it would probably go Josh Howard and then Shane Battier. I don't understand how anyone could NOT praise this trade, let alone kill it. Good job by both teams involved.

- We the viewers. Thanks to Tyrus Thomas' purple cardigan, we all walk away with a special memory.


- ESPN. I'm convinced that ESPN's studio coverage of the NBA could not be worse if they tried. First, you've got Stephen A. Smith. He has always been a lunatic with the yelling, but last night he just looked like a moron. He didn't know what he was talking about 90% of the time. Feel free to watch some film on these guys, Stephen A. Next is Dick Vitale screaming about all his ACC love children, and doing it from hell, apparently (did you see that fiery backdrop?). Then you've got Stuart Scott's unbearable interviews and the fact that he called Patrick O'Bryant "Bryant." The list goes on and on. Just atrocious. Not even solid efforts from the core group of Dan Patrick, Greg Anthony, and Jay Bilas could save the show.

- New York. What a shocker. Just when things can't get worse for the Knicks, they take a mid-second rounder with the 20th pick (some guy name Blackmon) and then add their 412th pseudo point guard with their next selection (Mardy Collins). Just an amazing turn of events. I am convinced that Isiah Thomas has set aside any real goals and is now doing everything for the sole purpose of providing comedy to the world at large.

- Minnesota. Let me see if I have this straight. Brandon Roy fell to the Wolves at #6, they quickly snatched him up, became an instant playoff contender in the process ... and then they traded him for Foye (who they could have had already). Is that right? Why? Why not just take Foye in the first place? Did they get anything else at all? Is the rest of the trade simply not being reported? I am so confused. Kevin McHale had great post moves in his playing days, but he has rocks for brains. He's almost as bad as Isiah. That said, Foye is still sick, so maybe they will luck out in spite of McHale's best efforts.

- Boston. Maybe this will all work out for Boston, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what in the world they were doing. First they trade what is looking like a very nice #7 pick (either one of the big six were going to drop, or Foye - a perfect fit for the C's - was going to be there) to the Celtics for Telfair (two years removed from being one of the shakiest #13 picks of all time), then they trade away a future first round pick for the rights to Rajon Rondo and Brian Grant's corpse. Let's break this down further, forgetting for the moment the absolutely worthless fact that Raef LaFrentz and Theo Ratliff changed teams or the somewhat sad fact that my boy Dan Dickau is on like his 9th team in four years (and his second time with Portland). If Boston was going to target Rondo, why give up Foye for Telfair? And after trading for Telfair, why give up a first round pick in what will no doubt be a better draft (regardless of which year it happens) for yet another point guard? I am so confused by all of this. They could have had Foye and a future pick and instead they have two point guards that can't shoot. Sweet. Maybe they are simply planning to turn all of this into Allen Iverson, but until they do, this is one big mess.

- David Stern. He looked like an idiot announcing all those trades we already knew about. And he looked like an even bigger idiot slapping lids on players when we already knew they had been traded. It's his own fault too, because he's the one that set up the lame protocol that forces guys to walk up there and act like they just got drafted by one team, when everyone in the world knows they've been traded to someone else. Just stupid.

- Stromile Swift. Okay, you are Stromile. You get picked #2 in 2000, in what is known then and now as one of the worst drafts of all time. Because this year's draft is supposed to be weak, people are constantly making comparisons to your draft year and calling it the "Kenyon Martin and Stromile Swift Draft," which has to sting, because it obviously implies that you suck. On top of that, you get traded on draft night and it becomes very evident that you are merely a throw-in for salary cap purposes. If not that, the only other option is that Houston demanded that Memphis take you as part of the deal. That cuts deep, because not only does it indicate that the team you just signed with last year (Houston) doesn't want you anymore, but it also seems that your old team (that didn't match the offer in the first place) doesn't really want you back either. I mean, to go from the #2 pick (purely on potential) to a highly sought-after mid-level free agent (purely on unrealized potential) to the throw-in on a Shane Battier trade? That is one rough journey. I don't see this ending well for Stro.


- Roy. Anytime you get the best player in the draft for what amounts to Sebastian Telfair, well, that is a pilfer. And somehow the ESPN guys were killing Portland for its moves. That makes total sense.

- Ronnie Brewer. Unless Brewer turns out to be the second coming of Reese Gaines, I think the Jazz got a steal at #14. Brewer was being touted as one of the 10 best players in this draft class all year, even up to the day of the draft. Next thing you know, one of the best 2 guards available is sitting there for a team in desperate need of a 2 guard. Amazing! Expect Brewer to start, be very good, and for the Jazz to not only make the playoffs but emerge as one of the best young teams in the West (provided AK-47 stays healthy, of course).

- Marcus Williams. Don't take this one the wrong way. Unlike the ESPN crew, who acted like Williams had been shot and left bleeding on the side of the road, I don't feel bad for him at all. It's his own fault that he went from possible #5 pick all the way to #22. That's what happens when you steal laptops, act like a cocky a-hole, and let yourself get fat. That said, I've believed that Williams was going to be a tremendous NBA point guard from the moment I saw him play. He can sit back, learn from Kidd, provide the Nets with needed depth and playmaking, and eventually take over. Of course, New Jersey turned around and blew their good fortune by taking Josh Boone instead of Alexander Johnson, which is why they aren't listed in the "Winners" category.

- Kyle Lowry. You already know my feelings here.

- Shannon Brown. Ditto.

- Mo Ager. I love Spartans, as you can see. Perhaps I am inspired by the Battle of Thermopylae and the great King Leonidas, but I just love these swingmen from MSU. Ager isn't really a steal in the traditional sense, but given his perimeter defensive abilities, the Mavs may have landed a potential D-Wade Stopper. And we are all very aware of how important that would be.

- Alexander Johnson. I still have no idea how he fell to #45. Furthermore, I have no idea how two teams - Indiana and Portland - could watch him fall in their laps and then trade him. Amazing. I am 95% certain that this guy is going to be a starter in the league at some point.

- Guillermo Diaz. For weeks we heard that the Kings wanted him at 19 and when they went for the more prolific scorer in Quincy Douby (and the better name, albeit in a close call), Diaz went flying down the board. I think the Lakers would have taken him at 26, but they had to take Farmar when he dropped to them. That meant that the Clippers, who had no business getting any quality players without a first round pick, got Diaz and Paul Davis (another Spartan!). The odds of them getting an eventual starter from this draft are now actually pretty good. Which is shocking.

There you have it. Those are my initial thoughts. Look for the official report when Dritz and I grade every NBA team on their picks.

Five Impact Players for Next Year

1. Brandon Roy. He’s the most NBA-ready of the players in the draft. He actually measured even taller (6’6 ½”) and tested as more athletic than most expected at the recent combine. Roy is a complete player on both ends of the floor, can get to the hoop, shoot, handle the rock, and create shots for his teammates. He’ll contribute next year.

2. Shelden Williams. Williams isn’t the most athletic guy in the draft, but he’s a great rebounder and shotblocker, and he can score with his back to the basket. He’s benefited from playing in Coach K’s system for the past 4 years. He’ll be a solid player next year, and for the next 10 years, but don’t expect him to get too much better than he is now.

3. J.J. Redick. We can’t leave out Williams’ former Duke teammate and first-team All-American, Redick. Some knock his athleticism and ability to get his own shot, especially after he couldn’t knock anything down against LSU in the NCAA tourney. However, he is still a lights-out shooter, and as a role player in the NBA, he won’t have defenses focused on shutting him down. On the right team, one with a good post player and/or someone who can drive to the hoop and force the D to collapse, he’ll be able to make a career of knocking down kickout jumpers.

4. Adam Morrison. I’m not a huge Morrison fan. A big portion of his game revolves around creating space for his sweet jumper, but I have my doubts about whether or not he’ll be able to do this against many of the more athletic defenders in the NBA. Nonetheless, he’s a pretty good scorer, and will probably average around 12 points per game next year. In a shallow draft like this one, he’ll probably make one of the biggest impacts of anyone in his class.

5. LaMarcus Aldridge. I wanted to give this spot to Andrea Bargnani, who could really be something special. But Aldridge, who’s been knocked for not being strong enough, is still much stronger than Bargnani. Aldridge crashes the boards hard, runs the court well for a big man, and can score both facing the basket and with his back to it. His scoring at Texas was deceptively low due to the fact that he played with a number of ballhogs.

Adam’s Comments: First of all, Dritz, way to stretch yourself. All five of these guys are projected as top-eight picks, so those were some bold choices. (Voice dripping with sarcasm.) That said, I can see all these guys faring okay next year. Roy is my guy and as many of you know (if you religiously read and memorize the blog – and really, who doesn’t?), I have been touting him for Rookie if the Year since March. Not only is he a very skilled and mature player, but his name is spelled R-O-Y, which stands for … you know it.

I find it interesting that you give Redick a boost by virtue of the fact that defenses won’t focus on him as much in the pros, yet you don’t give Morrison the same benefit of the doubt. I guess it all depends on where they end up. If Morrison winds up in Portland (as anticipated due to the ongoing “Draft the Stache” campaign), he is indeed going to have to work extremely hard to get shots. Whereas if Redick goes to Houston like Chad Ford seems to think, he will be feasting on Yao and T-Mac kick-outs. I suppose I agree with you, but it really boils down to their respective situations.

As for my top five “immediate contributors,” I would include Roy and Aldridge (I think he’s quickly becoming the most underrated player in the draft, as he and Roy have basically traded places on most projections), as well as Randy Foye (Roy’s biggest challenger for ROY, depending on who drafts Foye), Marcus Williams, and Shannon Brown (my choice for the “Josh Howard Late-20’s Pick That Blows Up” Award).

Five Future Impact Players (3-5 Years)

1. Andrea Bargnani. This guy could make an impact in less than three years. Unlike most European players who are drafted young and raw, Bargnani is 20 and has been playing in one of Europe’s most competitive leagues for one of Europe’s most competitive teams, and playing well. At 7’0,” the obvious comparison is Dirk, and all reports are that Bargnani is the real deal. Along with a strong perimeter game, he boards pretty well, and gives good effort on D. Word is Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo is a big fan, and many predict Bargnani will be the first pick in the draft.

2. Tyrus Thomas. A freakish athlete at 6’9”, Thomas burst onto the scene with his dominant performance during the NCAA tournament. With his ability to run the court and fill up a stat sheet, many have compared him to Shawn Marion. Critics wonder if he might be the next Stromile Swift. Personally, I think a better comparison is to a shorter, “poor man’s Amare Stoudamire.” His athleticism and shot-blocking ability make him extremely disruptive on D, and he runs the court very well. His offensive game is raw, but at only 19, that can develop. Bulls GM John Paxson is said to be in love with Thomas at #2. One worry: with rookie contracts under the new CBA being only for three years, he’ll still be too raw at the end of his first contract for the team that drafts him to be able to tell whether or not he’s the next Marion or the next Swift. This will make it hard for someone to decide whether to re-sign him. But he has the ability to be the best player in this draft.

3. Randy Foye. Some have referred to Foye as a “poor man’s Dwayne Wade.” He’s athletic, but not as strong or explosive as Wade. He’s skilled enough to help out now, but some teams want him to learn to run the point. Give him a couple years to pick up the position, and with his basketball smarts, whoever drafts him will be pleased.

4. Rudy Gay. In the past, Gay would have been on my “overrated” list, due to his propensity to disappear during games and questions about his heart. However, after Charlie Villanueva showed me up for dogging him about those issues later, I’ll give Gay a shot. He is a long, strong, freakish athlete with a good jumper and ball skills. He can do pretty much everything on the court, when he wants to. If he matures, he probably has the most potential of anyone in this draft.

5. Joel Freeland. This 7-foot Brit star of the Reebok Eurocamp has only been playing basketball for three years. He’s very athletic, blocks shots, and plays high-energy D. Offensively his skills are developing rapidly, and he’s already getting a decent mid-range jumper. He could be a real steal at the beginning of the second round, but he’ll take at least 2-3 years to develop.

Adam’s Comments: First of all, British people can’t play basketball, so that Freeland guy is going to suck. As for your other choices, I see that you also like Foye but think he needs time to learn the point. Fair enough, although I personally think that in today’s NBA he can ball right away. You don’t need defined guards anymore as evidenced by Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa and others who are “tweeners” yet still make huge impacts. I think if you can make defenses respect with your jumper, get by people with the dribble, and finish at the rim, you can destroy defenses. Does Foye fit the bill? Check, check, and check. So I think he contributes right away.

I believe that Gay is just as likely to be out of the league in five years as he is to be any good. I know The Seal (Charlie V) has you rethinking things, but I remember Villanueva putting forward pretty good effort. The questions about him were more centered on “will he get it?” He had concentration issues more than hustle problems. With Gay, he simply doesn’t seem to give a crap. My Dad calls him Darius Miles with a better jumper. Now, some people think that’s all Miles needs and would therefore take that as a compliment. Trust me, its not.

The guys that I think will be really good down the road after slow starts are Alexander Johnson (possible workout wonder, but more likely a legit player that is still learning how to use his new lean, mean frame), Mouhamed Saer Sene (supposedly he went from not being able to shoot a layup to being a physical specimen in one year – I think he’s going to be a better version of Diop, which suddenly isn’t too terrible), and Shawne Williams.

Five Overrated Players That Will be Drafted Too High

Five Overrated Players Who Will Be Drafted Too High

1. Patrick O’Bryant. His stock skyrocketed during Bradley’s improbable Sweet Sixteen run. At 7 feet, he’s seen as the best “pure center” in the draft, and I’ve heard some teams are considering him in the middle of the lottery. A good rebounder and decent athlete, he needs to bulk up. His offensive game is raw. I don’t see anything too special about him, but since centers are rare, he’ll get taken higher than his game warrants.

2. Marcus Williams. He’s a good player, but unspectacular. While he has good basketball IQ, he’s a subpar NBA athlete, which was on display at the combine. There are questions about his character due to off-the-court troubles and poor conditioning. Normally, I don’t think he’d be a lottery pick, but this year’s draft is very thin on point guards, so he’s crept up to the middle of the lottery. His status as “the best pure point guard in the draft” will get him chosen ahead of better players.

3. Rajon Rondo. I wanted to put Rondo in the “Players who should have stayed in school” category, but I really just haven’t seen his supposed “potential.” He’s immature, and got benched by Tubby Smith for part of last season. He’s quick, but he can’t shoot. Even his free throw percentage is bad (57% last season). Why would you use a lottery pick on a guard who can’t shoot?

4. Hilton Armstrong. I just don’t see anything special about Armstrong. He’s pretty athletic, and I guess at 6’11”, that’s all you need to get selected in the late lottery (as some have projected for Armstrong). He’s a good shot-blocker and plays hard, but his offensive game is very undeveloped, and he’s a liability when the ball is in his hands. I’m not a big fan of drafting someone mainly based on size.

5. Cedric Simmons. I’m always suspicious about guys you hear little to nothing about during the college season, but whose stock is suddenly high come draft time. Simmons is athletic and can block shots, but he’s not very strong and will get pushed around. His offensive game is pretty raw, and his ballhandling is questionable. Recent reports have him going as high as the late lottery. He’s too young, and won’t have developed yet (if he ever does) when his rookie contract is up.

Adam’s Comments. Simmons is a good call. I saw him work Sheldon Williams pretty good during the ACC season last year, but other than that, I don’t understand where all this heat is coming from. The latest reports say Boston is going to take him which makes no sense given that they already have Al Jefferson, who is a better version of Simmons. Odd. I obviously disagree with you about Marcus Williams but I’m on board with the rest. I recall rooting for Bradley to upset Kansas and being amazed whenever O’Bryant converted a hoop. Now he’s a lottery pick? What? Can you say “Next Michael Olowakandi”?

Seven Potential Sleepers

Seven Potential Sleepers

1. Dee Brown. I think I’m on the ever-shortening list of people who still like Brown. People worry about his size and abilities to run the point in a half-court offense. However, Brown will be the fastest guy on the court at all times, is a strong defender both on and off the ball, and has improved his jumper. This past season wasn’t a good one for Brown to show his NBA skills, as he had to be a lead scorer (not his forte) on a young squad. However, he’ll make a good substitute point guard. Phoenix should take a good look at him to back up Steve Nash and push the tempo, as Leandro Barbosa is likely to leave after this season.

2. Kevin Pittsnogle. If there’s room in the NBA for Matt Bonner as a 3-point shooting center, there’s room for Pittsnogle on someone’s bench.

3. Leon Powe. He was a big-time college player at Cal, and those are the guys I like. He’s athletic and skilled, and has an NBA body. He can score facing the basket and with his back to it. Scouts worry he’s not big enough to play the 4, since he’s only a hair taller than 6’7”. However, his 7’2” wingspan should alleviate those concerns. If Powe’s knee holds up, he’ll be a steal in the late first or early second round.

4. Quincy Douby. This guy can really fill up the hoop, averaging 25.4 points for Rutgers last season. He has a very, very sweet long-range jumper, and a pretty floater. He can provide offense off the bench for a team, or be a good supplemental scorer at the 2 position. He’s projected to go in the bottom of the first round, but with his ability to create his own shot, he might end up being better than Redick.

5. David Noel. He was a key contributor to the 2005 North Carolina national championship team that was one of the best college squads in recent history, and I think he can contribute in the NBA. I love guys who can play at big programs. He showed perhaps the most athleticism of any prospect at the combine, and is willing to do the dirty work. He doesn’t do anything exceptionally, but he’s just a basketball player, and he’ll be able to help out a team off the bench.

6 and 7. Mike Hall and Pops Mensah-Bonsu. Gotta show some love to my alma mater. These guys are both extraordinary athletes, and they can play some ball, too. Hall can hit the NBA 3 and lock up a good wing player on D. Pops is less skilled, but can jump out the gym and likes to bang down low. Both, but especially Hall, have potential to be contributors off the bench in the NBA.

Adam’s Comments. Get out of here with that GW stuff. Come on! (Best G.O.B. from “Arrested Development” voice.) I like the Powe call and would add a few more names to the list: Mo Ager (wildly underrated), Kyle Lowry (much better shooter than people realize – I contend that he’s already better than Devin Harris), Shannon Brown (as mentioned earlier), and Will Blalock (I also like Iowa State’s Curtis Stinson, but I’m not sure if he stayed in the draft and I’m too lazy to look it up.)

Five Players That Should Have Stayed in School

Five Players Who Should Have Stayed In School

1. Daniel Gibson. He was considered a likely lottery pick before the season, but appears to have regressed. He scores well, but can be turnover-prone and has trouble with pressure. He may not really be a point guard. Another year would have let him work on involving his teammates better. Now, he’s looking at being taken in the late first or early second round.

2. Darius Washington. His game is similar to Gibson’s, as are his questions. He has an NBA body and is a good scorer, but his assist-to-turnover ratio was about even, raising questions about his ability to run the point in the pros.

3. Josh Boone. He supposedly has all the physical tools, but I feel like he rarely showed them in his first three years at UConn. He could be a good shot-blocker and rebounder, but lacks an offensive game. Many wonder if he’s soft, especially after he got pushed around by Jai Lewis in the Elite Eight. Nonetheless, scouts feel like his potential would make him a solid first-rounder if he developed a bit at school over the next year. Instead, he’s staying in this draft, and is projected to go in the second round.

4. Guillermo Diaz. He’s an incredible athlete (noticing a theme in this year’s draft?) and a tough kid. However, he’s inexperienced and can be turnover-prone. Another year at Miami to shore up his ballhandling skills would have moved him up into the lottery.

5. Danilo Pinnock. He fits the GW mold of exceptional athleticism but possessing raw skills. He needs to develop offensively. Currently, he’s probably going undrafted, but if he’d stayed another year, he would’ve established himself as a solid second-rounder.

Adam’s Comments. I think there is more to the Darius Washington story than meets the eye. He was a stud at Memphis and by the Tourney, he was splitting time at the point with walk on Anthony Allen. I got some serious “ this sucks” vibes from Washington late in the season, so I think he was planning to go no matter what. I can’t imagine losing his job would have been good for his draft stock, so maybe he was wise to try now. I do think that Antoine Wright should stay in school. Oh wait, he’s been on New Jersey’s bench all year. (Sorry if that joke sounds familiar – I used it last year.)

Four Players to Look for in 2007 (and one in '08)

Dritz and I teamed up for our annual draft preview column, but something is amiss over at home base. I think all my editors are on vacation. So I am breaking it down by group and posting it here, just so we can point to somethin when all of our predictions come true. Here is the first of many:

Four Players to Look For in the 2007 Draft and One to Look For in the 2008 Draft

1. Greg Oden. I don’t need to say much about Oden. He’s the most heralded high school prospect since LeBron, and with good reason. I saw him play in person, and he’s just an absolute monster. Oden’s a legit 7 feet, runs the court well, blocks shots, hits the boards, and can hit 15-foot jumpers. His game is incredibly developed for a 18-year-old. Right now, he’s one of the top 10 centers in the world. He claims he wants to stay in college, but it’s hard to believe he’s going to be able to resist the lure of big money after a dominant college season next year.

2. Josh McRoberts. He considered entering the draft this year, but decided to hang around Duke and be “the Man” this season. He is very athletic and runs the court well for a big man. He’s strong and has an NBA body. Barring an injury, he’ll be a top-5 pick next year.

3. Joakim Noah. This son of a former tennis star might have been the #1 pick this year, but decided to return to Florida and try to defend their national title. At 6’10”, he runs the court faster than guards, and has the rare ability to take over a game with his defense and shot-blocking. His offensive game is developing rapidly. He probably should have come out this year, though, since his stock was so high. Another year in college, and scouts will start to find problems with his game (like his awkward-looking ballhandling).

4. Kevin Durant. He dominated the McDonald’s game with his play. He’s strong and has a very sweet shot for a 6’9” player with his athleticism. Word is he’s “one-and-done” at Texas. If so, he could be a top-five pick as well.

5. O.J. Mayo (2008 Draft). The Cincinnati prep star has drawn comparisons to Kobe Bryant with the completeness of his play. He can score at will, and fills up the stat sheets. Supposedly, he’s headed to Kansas State after this season to play for Bob Huggins, but he’s highly unlikely to stay for more than a year.

Adam’s Comments. For the life of me, I’ll never understand why Noah went back to school. I know he has plenty of money and loves campus life and all that, but seriously, what was he thinking? I see a Matt Leinart-like drop in his near future. I guess the moral of the story is this: “stay in school … unless you are going to be the #1 pick in a major professional sports draft.” The worst part about Noah’s decision is that he is going to cost teammates Al Horford and Corey Brewer some serious money. Everyone knows that 2008 is shaping up to be a far superior draft, so it is unlikely that any of the young Gators will retain their lofty projections once next spring rolls around. Even if they repeat (unlikely given all the luck required) they will still lose in the big picture. Noah will go from a possible #1 pick to probably the 6-10 range, Horford was looking at Shelden Williams’ spot in this draft (5-8) and will now probably fall out of the lottery, and Brewer was settling in at late lottery and will now most likely to drop into the 20’s. I’m telling you, this is a bigger deal than people realize.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals went to the home team Pistons, which kept their season alive a little longer. There were a few aspects of the game that could be deemed "factors" in the outcome, including: increased intensity by the Pistons (nice of Ben Wallace to show up for a game), a big performance from Tayshaun Prince, 14 Miami turnovers, a pretty average game for D-Wade, and the typical "call a bunch of fouls in the first quarter so the home team can get into the bonus and shoot free throws" move that the officials have perfected this postseason. However, none of those factors come close to the only real factor in tonight's game. And that would be ...


That was Miami's shooting from the free throw line. From the free throw line.

Now, I have never taken a free throw in an NBA playoff game with 19,000 people screaming at me, but I have to believe I should shoot better than 30%. My buddy Josh Stump discussed this on his blog while calling out Hubie Brown for shedding tears on behalf of Ben "The Living, Breathing Missed Free Throw" Wallace. And he's got it exactly right. How do you miss more than half of your free throws? In this case, how do you miss more than two-thirds of them!

You would think with this kind of masonry going on, that the Hack-a-Shaq was in effect. Not really. Sure, Shaq was a grisly 1-for-5 from the line, but that still leaves a 5-for-15 work of art for the rest of the team to lay claim to. For the love of James Naismith, how did this happen?

Part of the problem is that Miami lacks great shooters. Everyone knows this, but because Wade is so sick and Shaq so powerful, Miami wins a lot of games even without reliable shooters. Plus, they have a couple of streaky players that can get hot and hit some threes in 'Toine, Posey, and Jason Williams. However, take a look at their roster and find me someone that could beat Jeff Morrow in a three-point shootout. Okay, 99% of you don't know who Jeff Morrow is, but think of your buddy with the sweet jumper and insert him into the argument. Face it, Miami has plenty of good players but not a whole lot of good shooters. Wade is probably the only guy I'd consider a good shooter and he's usually pretty solid from the line and from inside the three-point arc, but even he is more scorer than shooter. And when you aren't a shooter, you have nights where you lose the feel (Steve Kerr did a great job of discussing this the other night, while talking about Leandro Barbosa). And when the whole team is comprised of shaky shooters, you might just have a night where everybody loses the feel all at once. And then it is: "Goodness sakes alive, watch your face!" (Since I cited my man Stump's blog, I felt obligated to throw a Bill Walton quote in there. Because he loves him.)

Another problem for Miami is that different players kept getting fouled. To me, free throw shooting - really any kind of shooting - is kind of like hitting a baseball. The more attempts you get, the better off you are. I remember in the NCAA Tournament, the incredibly insane and grouchy Billy Packer got absolutely fixated on the low free throw shooting percentage of Florida's sharpshooting guard Lee Humphrey. He kept mentioning Humphrey's 44% shooting for the year and offering all kinds of crazy suggestions for improvement (including my favorite: moving back to 19 feet and shooting a jumper, which apparently was supposed to be some sort of cross between Nick Van Exel and a three-point shootout). What Packer failed to notice as that Humphrey had only taken 22 attempts all year. So here was Packer, rambling on and on about Humphrey's inability to shoot free throws, meanwhile the kid finally gets a few attempts in bulk and he goes like 8-for-9 in the national semis. To go back to the baseball analogy, it is like comparing an everyday player to a pinch hitter. In almost every case, the everyday guy will have the better batting average. Part of this is probably because the everyday guy is better to start with (that is why he's playing everyday), but the other part is that you need volume attempts to produce. It takes a special type of player to get off the bench to hit once every two games. I think this applies to shooting, particularly free throws. I know that I can knock down 10, 20, maybe 30 free throws in a row standing by myself in a gym. I also know that if I get 10 free throws in an actual game (we're talking college intramurals and city leagues here, of course), I am probably going to make eight or nine. However, if I get fouled just one time? If I'm being honest, I probably go 1-for-2. Maybe not, but the point is that if you can get one trip out of the way and get the feel, the rest is gravy. For Miami, the only guys to get more than three attempts were their centers, Shaq and Zo. Not good. Wade converted an "and one" but missed twice when he finally got to the line late in the game. Haslem had a rough trip where he missed two and then he shanked another one later in the game. Payton threw up a pair of bricks. I am 100% certain that if Wade got eight attempts, he would have made five or six. If Payton got another trip to the line, he probably would have made both of them. But when you only get to the line once the whole game, it is a crap shoot.

I could go on, but there is no point in beating a dead horse here. The simple fact is that Miami lost this game at the free throw line. They didn't get a lot of calls to begin with and when they did win a trip to the line, they just gave it away. Miami is never going to be a great free throw shooting team (as evidenced by their percentages in the first four games: 67%, 67%, 87%, 60%), but they can't expect to win if they shoot under 50% from the stripe.

Game Six may very well boil down to the most elementary play in basketball: making unguarded shots from 15 feet away.



Forgive the vague title, but that was the only way I could take all of the lunacy surrounding this Roger Clemens signing and put it into one word.

Let's put aside the fact that Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, or that he's nothing but a hired gun (and has been for a long time), or that he has retired and unretired more than Jordan and George Foreman combined. Instead, let's focus on the national sports media's reaction to Houston signing Clemens. There are articles ranging from shockingly derisive (Yahoo columnist Jeff Passan calling Clemens either a "liar" or "delusional") to snarky and dismissive (the normally solid Tom Verducci writing them off) and many of them seem to be focusing on one thing: Clemens said that this choice was all about winning, yet the Astros can't win.

So I ask again ... what?

For starters (pun totally intended), Houston won't be the same team going forward with Clemens that they were without him. Not only did he lead the majors in ERA last year, but his work ethic and leadership were invaluable for the other Houston pitchers. I fully expect Andy Pettitte to pitch better and for Brad Backe to come back from the DL stronger and for the bullpen to make tremendous strides. Bringing Clemens back is like adding a #1 starter and a pitching coach at the same time. I think he's good for an extra five wins just by being on the team, and another five or six by virtue of him pitching instead of somebody crappy. I know they are scuffling along right now, but those 10-12 wins are going to come in handy.

Not only that, but what sane person would count the Astros out with or without Clemens? Everyone is saying that he should have gone to Boston or New York or even Texas if he really wanted to win, and that the fact that he returned to Houston is proof that he only did it for family reasons. Now, I will be the first to admit that Boston and New York are good places to go if you want to win, but since when did Houston turn into a doormat? Isn't this the same team that played in the World Series last year?

But wait, they are only 27-27 right now and since Houston is always defined by what they do in April and May, the season is pretty much over. Wrong. Forgive the sarcastic tone, but isn't this the same team that came out of nowhere to make the playoffs in each of the past two seasons? In 2004 the Astros were dead in the water, sitting on a 52-52 record at the end of July. All they did was bring in manager Phil Garner and outfielder Carlos Beltran and tear off a 40-18 record down the stretch to finish with 92 wins, the wild card, and a trip to the NLCS.

In 2005, Houston - sans Beltran - struggled once again, going an abysmal 15-30 through the first two months of the season. A 29-13 run heading into the All-Star Break (leaving them 44-43 at that point) prompted me to write a column predicting that the "Never Say Die" Astros would go on to win the NL Wild Card again. And they did, again. They went 45-30 in the second half, which gave them an overall record of 74-43 after the terrible start. Oh, and did I mention that they parlayed that wild card spot into the first World Series appearance in franchise history?

Just for argument's sake, here are the Astros records in '04 and '05 at the 54 game mark:
2004: 29-25
2005: 20-34

That means that their record and winning percentage in the remaining 108 games looks like this:
2004: 63-45 (.583)
2005: 69-39 (.639)

For a reasonable idea of how the 'Stros might play their final 108 games this season, I decided to just take the average between 2004 and 2005, which gives us a winning percentage of .611. Playing at a .611 clip for the next 108 games would result in a record of 66-42 over that time. Add that to their current record and you get a 93-69 team.

And Roger Clemens is a "liar" because he wants to play for a winner? He's "delusional"? Just for the record, I should add that with Houston reasonably expecting to finish with a .574 winning percentage, they are looking pretty good. In fact, other than the division leaders, there isn't a single NL team currently playing at that clip. Who is going to beat out Houston for the Wild Card? Atlanta (currently at .528)? Cincinnati? One of the NL West imposters? Give me a break.

I'm not saying that Houston is automatically going to win the World Series with Roger Clemens. I do think he'll help them have a better chance, but that isn't what this is about. The point is that the Astros have come racing from the back of the pack in two consecutive seasons, yet a large contingent of "experts" are writing them off merely because they are 7 games behind the Cardinals. Does this make any sense at all?

If you ask me, Roger Clemens is 100% right when he says this decision was about winning. He knows the Rangers are unlikely to keep playing this well and that the Angels won't stay bad forever. He also knows that with so many solid teams tearing it up in the AL Central, there is a good chance that whoever loses the AL East race between the Sox and the Yanks is staying home this season. If he guesses wrong, no postseason. However, with the Astros, he can feel pretty confident they are going to win the Wild Card. Factoring in the quality of the teams that look to make up the field and the track record of the 'Stros, it was practically a no-brainer. Not only that, but the Astros are the only team in that group that isn't winning right now. If he joins the Rangers and they don't hang on to the AL West, how would that look? How about if he signed on with Boston or New York and the other team won the AL East? Not a real good situation for The Rocket. But in Houston, it is win-win. If the Astros pull off another comeback, this time it is Clemens that serves as the lightening rod (like Gardner/Beltran in '04 and the return of Berkman last year).

I don't like Clemens all that much, but when he says this decision was about winning, I believe him. Because he did the same math I did and he's not an idiot. Which is more than I can see for the guys writing some of these columns.