Friday, June 29, 2007

Draft Grades

Atlanta Hawks: Surprisingly nice job by Hawks GM Billy Knight. I kept waiting for him to butcher this, but he did the right thing in taking Al Horford (#3) and got a solid point guard in Acie Law (#11). While Law is not exactly the pure point guard they need, he might be the most NBA-ready PG and should get major minutes as a rookie. Grade: A-

Boston Celtics:
While acquiring Ray Allen is a bit questionable (though I like the move), the Celtics made up for it by getting good value out of their second round picks. Gabe Pruitt (#32) and Rajon Rondo pretty much have opposite skill sets, so they should complement each other well, and Glen Davis (#35) could be a steal in the second round. Grade: B

Charlotte Bobcats: Trading Brandan Wright (#8) for Jason Richardson is a good move. The Bobcats badly need scoring, plus someone to draw fans, and Richardson can do both. Wright has great potential, but he can't hit a shot outside of 8 feet and he has a questionable motor. Jared Dudley at #22 seems like a reach. Dudley could be a nice role player, but that's a bit early for him. Grade: C+

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls really should have traded the 9th pick, rather than take Joakim Noah, who is an energetic defensive-minded player in the Scott Skiles mold, but does not make the Bulls any better. Noah is basically a more skilled version of Anderson Varejao and will not be the low-post scorer the Bulls need. Aaron Gray (#49) might be able to help in that department, but I'm not sure he can keep up with the rest of the team. Grade: C

Cleveland Cavaliers: No draft picks this year. Poor LeBron... Grade: Incomplete

Dallas Mavericks: The only picks who will play for the Mavs this year are Nick Fazekas (#34) and Reyshawn Terry (#44). Fazekas projects, at best, as a poor man's Nowitski. What's with the Mavs bringing in these guys? First Keith Van Horn, then Austin Croshere, and now Fazekas. Are they trying to boost Dirk's confidence or something? Terry's shooting could help the team but it's hard to see him getting much playing time. The other picks (Renaldas Seibutis and Milovan Rankovic) will stay abroad for now. Grade: C+

Denver Nuggets: No draft picks this year. Grade: Incomplete

Detroit Pistons: The Pistons took three shooting guards, apparently looking to shore up their bench and perimeter defense. Rodney Stuckey (#15) should contribute as a combo guard off the bench, but is there really room for all these guards? Taking Stuckey is one thing, but following up with Arron Afflalo (#27) and Sammy Mejia (#57)? Makes you wonder if they're expecting Chauncey Billups to leave through free agency. Grade: B-

Golden State Warriors: Marco Belinelli (#17) will help make up for the loss of Jason Richardson. He's an outstanding shooter and should be a great fit. Hard to see how Brandan Wright meshes with this team, though maybe he becomes a part of another trade. Stephane Lasme could be a nice value pick at #46. He's one of the best shot-blockers in the draft and should help shore up the Golden State defense. Grade: B+

Houston Rockets: Why take Aaron Brooks (#26) when you already have Rafer Alston and Luther Head and you just traded for Mike James? Why not take a big man to fill the gaping hole at power forward? Not to mention, Brooks is listed at 6-0, 160 lbs. Few players of his stature can hold up in the pros. Glen Davis, Josh McRoberts, or Nick Fazekas would have made a lot more sense here. They did trade for Carl Landry (#31), but is he really better than the aforementioned power forwards? Grade: D-

Indiana Pacers: Traded for Stanko Barac (#39), a talented big man who will stay overseas to develop for a few years. Grade: Incomplete

Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers may have been a bit surprised that Al Thornton was still on the board at #14. He is one of the more NBA-ready players in the draft and could have an instant impact, but do the Clippers have room for him? He'll be competing with Corey Maggette, Cuttino Mobley, and Tim Thomas for minutes. Nice job on the Jared Jordan pick (#45). Jordan may not be athletic, but you can't teach the court sense and basketball IQ he displayed at Marist. Grade: B+

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers needed another point guard, and addressed that by taking Javaris Crittenton (#19), but why not take a PG who can shoot a little better, like Gabe Pruitt? Crittenton is raw and doesn't seem to fit in the triangle offense. The other picks, Sun Yue (#40) and Marc Gasol (#48) are also a few years away from contributing. These are rebuilding moves and Kobe really could be on his way out the door. Grade: B-

Memphis Grizzlies: With all the sympathy the Celtics have gotten for their lottery misfortune, where's the love for the Grizzlies? They were the worse team and got that way with less tanking. Picking Mike Conley (#4) should help them avoid that fate next year, as he'll be a considerable improvement over Damon Stoudamire and Chucky Atkins. Grade: A

Miami Heat: Swapped picks with the Sixers and landed Daequan Cook (#21). Cook's shooting should help the Heat immediately, as he should get some open looks playing with Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade. Cook has very good potential and might turn out to be a steal down the road, but he's a few years from being anything but a shooter for the Heat. Grade: B

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks made a very bold move by selecting Yi Jianlian (#6) even though Milwaukee was not approved by Yi's representatives. Yi could be a very good fit in Milwaukee, but he has to agree to play there first. If they can't work something out, this could be a disaster. Ramon Sessions (#56) was a nice pick. He shined in the Orlando pre-draft camp and could serve as a replacement for Mo Williams. Grade: Incomplete (pending Yi's decision)

Minnesota Timberwolves: The fact that they didn't trade Kevin Garnett makes them the disappointment of the night, in my eyes. That said, Corey Brewer (#7) will upgrade the defense and might chip in a little scoring. Brewer, Randy Foye, and whoever Minnesota gets for KG could be a nice core. Chris Richard (#41) has decent potential, despite his limited playing time at Florida. Grade: B

New Jersey Nets: Sean Williams (#17) could have been a lottery pick if not for character issues, so this has to be considered a steal as far as talent. He'll give them shot-blocking, rebounding, and defense and he might even score a few times off lobs from Jason Kidd. Good solid pick, but did he learn his lesson after getting kicked off the team at Boston College? I'm just hoping for a sitcom involving Sean Williams and Marcus Williams. What kind of crazy high-jinks can we expect? The Nets are two bad apples away from becoming the new Jailblazers. Grade: B+

New Orleans Hornets: Julian Wright was the best player left on the board at #13, but Al Thornton or Nick Young would have been a better fit. I love Wright's athleticism, defense, and passing, but he has an atrocious-looking jump shot and I'm not sure he'll ever be a good shooter in the NBA. It ought to be fun to watch him and Chris Paul run the floor, but I'm not sure they get that much better. Adam Haluska (#43) was an odd pick, as few experts expected him to even get drafted, let alone go in the mid-second round. Grade: B-

New York Knicks: Wilson Chandler (#23) isn't quite Renaldo Balkman, but it was still a bit of a reach. I also want to take this chance to point out that no matter what anyone says, Balkman was a bad pick. I don't care if he's an All-Star this year. The fact is they could have taken him in the second round or maybe signed him after the draft because no one else was interested. Sorry, but it's a wasted pick. Why take him in the first round when you could still get him later and also add a Marcus Williams or Rajon Rondo? All that said, Chandler was an acceptable pick. Isiah gets a few extra points for the Randolph trade. Grade: B

Orlando Magic: Traded away their second round picks to Dallas and Houston. Grade: Incomplete

Philadelphia 76ers: This was a pretty good draft for the Sixers. Thaddeus Young (#12) worries me a little bit, as his poor rebounding reminds me a bit too much of Rodney Carney, but he's a phenomenal athlete, a better shooter than Carney, and is not as soft. He can defend any position but center and should look good running the floor with Andre Miller and Andre Igoudala. Even if he has a lackluster rookie year, he's only 19. I love the Jason Smith pick (#20). The Sixers needed a PF and Smith is one of the best in the draft. Philadelphia is apparently allergic to international players, as they drafted two and traded them both away. That said, Herbert Hill (#55) could be a big steal, coming off a great senior year. Grade: A-

Phoenix Suns: Questionable draft for the Suns, who pass up on a real talent, Rudy Fernandez (#24, traded to Portland for cash) and add two players who can't shoot: Alando Tucker (#29) and D.J. Strawberry (#59). Of course, if the Suns land Garnett then all will be forgiven. Grade: C-

Portland Trailblazers: They get a good grade just for taking Greg Oden, but what are they going to do with the rest of the players they added? Rudy Fernandez (#24) for cash is a great deal and Josh McRoberts (#37) is a good value pick considering how late he went. Demetris Nichols (#53) is a tremendous shooter and should find a niche. Petteri Koponen (#30) could be stashed overseas but what about Taurean Green (#52)? Not a bad draft at all, but where do they put these guys? Grade: A

Sacramento Kings: In Spencer Hawes (#10), the Kings basically get the next Brad Miller. Hard to say if that will help them much, since they already have the original Brad Miller, but it had to be between Hawes and Julian Wright, and Wright would not have found much playing time with Ron Artest and Kevin Martin already in Sacramento. Grade: B-

San Antonio Spurs: Tiago Splitter (#28) could work out great for the Spurs. They can afford to wait for his European contract to expire and he'll be a very nice addition in a year or two. Marcus Williams (#33) could also be a good pick. He's a very good athlete and has a decent jump-shot. The Spurs ought to be able to mold him into an effective role player. Grade: A-

Seattle SuperSonics: After the no-brainer Kevin Durant pick, the Sonics made an interesting move, sending Ray Allen to Boston and getting back, among others, Jeff Green (#5). Green and Durant can be used interchangeably and both are very versatile. Seattle will have some very interesting lineup options next year. Of course, now comes the hard part: re-signing Rashard Lewis. Grade: A-

Utah Jazz: Morris Almond (#25) will give the Jazz a shooter they badly need. He ought to be an improvement over Gordon Giricek and will battle last year's first round pick, Ronnie Brewer, for playing time. Utah also acquired Kyrylo Fesenko (#38) from the Sixers for Herbert Hill. Fesenko is very talented, but may develop abroad for a few years. Grade: B-

Toronto Raptors: Traded their 2008 second round pick to the Spurs for Giorgos Printezis (#58), who will stay in Greece for now. Grade: Incomplete

Washington Wizards: Nick Young (#16) was the best shooting guard available and he'll fill a need in Washington. His shooting should help the Wizards, though they still lack size and defense. Their other pick, Dominic McGuire (#47) may help with the defense, but it's not all that likely that he'll get many minutes. Grade: B+

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Isiah Wins a Trade!

Never thought I'd say that, but I don't know what the Blazers were thinking. Maybe it took all of Kevin Pritchard's common sense to select Greg Oden over Kevin Durant and he had none left to work out this trade.

Zach Randolph for Channing Frye and Steve Francis? A 25-year old who averages 20 and 10 for a mediocre young power forward and a washed-up Francis? Trading Randolph isn't a terrible move, as the Blazers needed to make room for Oden and Aldridge, but how does this make Portland any better? The only way it could work out is if Steve Francis regains his Houston form or maybe if Pritchard is able to trade Francis and maybe Raef LaFrentz for helps when when their contracts expire. That, or let them go and use the cap room to make a big signing, but who knows what the free agent market will look like by then. For a talent like Randolph, one would think Portland could have at least gotten David Lee or the 23rd pick, but apparently not.

As for the Knicks, it's a good move. Now they've got two excellent low-post scorers, in Randolph and Eddy Curry. Of course, one has to wonder whether they'll get in each other's way in the same way that Randolph and Oden supposedly would have. The other issue is that Randolph is not much of a defender, plus this gives the Knicks yet another guy who will need the ball. I can't see it making the Knicks that much better, but it certainly is an improvement as far as talent and for once the Knicks might actually have a player that other teams want. Maybe this could allow them to get back into Kobe Bryant trade talks. Even if Randolph doesn't improve the Knicks, the possibility of turning around and trading Randolph (or maybe Curry) makes this a steal for New York.

This actually looks a lot better for the Knicks on paper than it will likely play out. Randolph is great, but did the Knicks really need another scorer? Hard to imagine he'll make the guys around him better. I can't say it was a bad deal because New York didn't give up anything much, but unless they turn around and trade Randolph or Curry for a better fit, it won't amount to much.

Allen to Celtics

Well we've got our first big trade of the night in the NBA Draft. Ray Allen to Boston for the #5 pick (Jeff Green), Delonte West, and Wally Szczerbiak.

Paul Pierce has his star player. Not exactly Kevin Garnett, but the Celtics managed to add a talented scorer and keep both Al Jefferson and Gerald Green. Having Pierce and Allen on the floor together should open up the post for Jefferson down low and Boston could even go small for stretches and play Gerald Green at the same time, which would put Jefferson with three outstanding shooters. Of course, Allen's poor defense could be a drawback, but his scoring may make up for it. There's no telling how Pierce will mesh will Allen, but this could put the Celtics on top of the Atlantic Division...not that that's saying much.

This is a questionable deal for the Sonics. Instead of pairing Durant with Allen, he'll practically be out there on his own. I'm now predicting Durant for Rookie of the Year (bold move, I know) simply because he will get a ton of shots with no other proven scorers on the roster. So with Allen gone and Rashard Lewis likely leaving, who is going to help Durant? Hard to say how Jeff Green will perform as a rookie. Chris Wilcox was solid last year, but hardly a #2 scoring option. Szczerbiak, if healthy, can knock down some open shots, but not much else. West could be the second-best scorer on that team.

Bottom line for Seattle: while Portland could make the playoffs in Oden's rookie year, Seattle will be right back in the lottery next year, though this move could pay dividends down the road if Durant and Green develop the way many scouts think they will. Of course, if the Sonics can convince Lewis to re-sign, they could fight for a playoff spot.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Who's Number One?

There's been a lot of speculation lately regarding who the Portland Trail Blazers will select with the first pick in the NBA Draft. Up until recently it's seemed a foregone conclusion that they would take Greg Oden, but now comments by GM Kevin Pritchard and analysis by ESPN writers such as Bill Simmons and John Hollinger (both of whom I usually agree with) make it sound like the Blazers are seriously considering Kevin Durant.

While Durant looks like he'll make a very good pro, Pritchard has to make the sensible pick. In all fairness, Pritchard owes it to his fans to take a good long look at Durant, who is a more marketable player than Oden. It has long been the case that big men win championships, but, as Wilt Chamberlain once said, "Nobody roots for Goliath," and as a result, the smaller, quicker players are always going to be more popular. But the NBA Draft shouldn't be a popularity contest.

A major reason that Durant is getting heralded as the best player in the draft is that he is unique. There isn't really anyone to compare him with. He's a better shooter than Kevin Garnett, more athletic than Dirk Nowitski, bigger than Tracy McGrady, etc. This makes fans start to wonder what he really is and adds a ton of hype. Well guess what? Just because he's unique doesn't mean he's better than all of the aforementioned players. There was never a player like Nowitski before his arrival, but does that mean he's better than Tim Duncan?

If Durant develops to his full potential, the sky's the limit. He could become impossible to guard and could lead the league in scoring multiple times. But "if" and "could" are the key words there. It's also completely possible that he'll never add the muscle he needs to play power forward and yet still lack the quickness to stay with quicker small forwards. As it is, he is rail-thin and could get abused by bigger players on the defensive end, plus his lack of size could make him strictly into a jump-shooter, limiting his offense. And it's entirely possible he'll give up as many points as he scores if his defense doesn't vastly improve.

I'm not saying all this will happen, just that it's a possibility. My point is that Durant is far from guaranteed to be a great player. Oden, on the other hand, is as close to a sure thing as you can get. He's a legit seven-footer with incredible athleticism, he'll immediately be one of the best shot-blockers and defenders in the NBA, and he'll be a better scorer than he was in college because he was playing with a wrist injury all of last season. Oden's best-case scenario (an Olajuwon-Duncan-Robinson hybrid) is just as good as Durant's and his worst-case scenario (a Mourning/Mutombo type, barring injury of course) is much better.

Another big reason so many are calling for Portland to draft Durant is that Durant would fill more of a need for the Blazers, who already have Zach Randolph and LaMarcus Aldridge in the paint. Adding Oden effectively forces the Blazers to trade one of them (likely Randolph) to make room. Hmm, drafting an inferior player because he's a better fit. What does that remind me of? Oh, I know. The 1984 draft when Portland took Sam Bowie #2 overall because he was a better fit than some guy named Michael Jordan.

(And if you're thinking of countering that with, "See? The '84 draft was a classic example of the perimeter player being the better pick than the big man," well sorry. No dice. Yes, Jordan was better than both Bowie, whose career was ruined by injuries, and #1 selection Hakeem Olajuwon, but Jordan is the ultimate exception. There never has been a perimeter player who dominated the league like Jordan. If Kevin Pritchard is completely convinced that Durant is the second perimeter player ever who is capable of doing so, then go ahead and take him, but if Durant is anything short of Jordan-esque, it would be a big mistake.)

My point isn't that big men are always better, it's that with the top pick in the draft, you take the best player and not the best fit. Don't you think Portland would have rather taken their chances with Jordan and Clyde Drexler and found a way to make it work, or even trade Drexler, rather than taking Bowie? Even if Bowie had lived up to expectations, Jordan was the more promising prospect and he would have been the #2 overall pick if the Blazers didn't already have Drexler.

It would have been more convenient for Portland if they had gotten the second selection. They could have had Durant (Seattle would not have had a hard time choosing) and he would have fit in with the team they have already. Now Pritchard's job is a little harder. He has to make a choice and if he makes the right choice, he'll have to work out a favorable deal to unload Zach Randolph. Poor guy. I think once Oden guides Portland to the playoffs...again and again...he'll get over it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mesa(s) Get the Big Out

I think I speak for all Phillies fans when I say that I was flat-out terrified when Jose Mesa got the call from the bullpen last night. Manuel brought him in to face Casey Blake with two on and two outs in the Bottom of the 8th and the Phillies nursing a one-run lead. While he had done a decent job in his previous outings and the rest of the Philadelphia bullpen hasn't exactly been lights-out, all I could think about was all the leads Mesa had blown (or nearly blown) for the Phillies in the past. It didn't help matters that he was going up against Cleveland, who had shelled him in his final appearance with the Tigers before his release. Not to mention the fact that it was a one-run game and the first time that the Phillies had used Mesa in a tight game.

Amazingly, Mesa got the out (a grounder to Chase Utley) and actually looked pretty good. He started with a 78 mph breaking ball, followed by a 91 mph fastball; both for strikes. The at-bat was far more painless than I had feared.

The scariest part of the game turned out to be Antonio Alfonseca in the ninth inning. The Phillies put up three runs in the ninth inning, giving them a four-run cushion. Manuel still opted for the closer. Alfonseca gave up a run and put runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs, finally recording the last out on a well-hit fly ball that Shane Victorino ran down in right-center. While the Phillies won by three runs, it seemed much closer than that.

After that outing, I am officially referring to Alfonseca as Jose Mesa 2.0. The physical similarities (minus the extra digits) are uncanny and both have walked the tightrope of being fairly reliable while terrifying their fans in the process. Having either one of them in the game is like having Shaquille O'Neal at the line in a crucial situation. You know he usually makes the big ones, but you also know he's missed a ton and watching it makes you uncomfortable.

Tonight's game is a big one for the Phillies. Winning a series in Cleveland would be quite impressive and it would give them great momentum as they head into (what should be) two easy series. Next up is the Cardinals, followed by the Reds. After that is the Mets. With the Mets taking on Oakland next, it's not ridiculous to expect the Phillies to be tied with them or maybe even holding a one-game lead by the time that series comes around. Of course, the Phillies did drop two of three to Kansas City, so there really is no sure thing with them.

Monday, June 18, 2007

What Is Pat Burrell Really Up To?

Phillies fans have been wondering for years where Pat Burrell's power has gone and why he never blossomed into a major power source in the Philadelphia lineup. Burrell hit 37 HRs in 2002 and seemed to be on the cusp of stardom, but it was all downhill from there. In 2003 Burrell batted .209 with 21 HRs in a dismal season. He bounced back somewhat in the next three seasons, particularly in '05 and '06 with 32 and 29 HRs, respectively, but his struggles are worse than ever this year. Burrell is currently hitting .211 with 8 HRs and the only thing he is doing well is taking pitches. He has walked 53 times already this year, putting him in 2nd place in the National League, above teammate and reigning MVP Ryan Howard.

Burrell has often been criticized for taking so many pitches and taking a seemingly passive approach at the plate. This approach has allowed him to maintain a .382 on-base percentage, despite his low hit-count, but it has made him useless to the Phillies. It has forced Charlie Manuel to move Burrell down to 6th in the lineup, when he even starts, which is becoming increasingly rare these days.

Why has Burrell stopped hitting and done nothing but walk? Perhaps he is trying to cut down on his strikeouts. If he has proven anything, it's that he is sensitive, so maybe he is responding to Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt's remarks. Schmidt said that players such as Burrell and the Reds' Adam Dunn "tick [him] off" because they strike out so much. Well to his credit, Burrell has cut down on strikeouts. In fact, he has 48 so far and if he continues his pace he will have more walks than strikeouts for the first time in his career.

If Burrell is putting on his best Mike Schmidt impression, he's not doing a great job. It's gotten to the point where I refer to every one of his at-bats as the Pat Burrell Called Third Strike Spectacular (or PBCTSS for short, though that's not much shorter...still working on that). No, it's not a Mike Schmidt impression. Burrell has a far nobler goal in mind.

My theory is that he wants to see every pitch in the majors by the end of his career. A gallant quest indeed. Think about it, he has taken an average of 4.15 pitches per at-bat (through Sunday), which is a lot when you consider nobody sees him as a threat to get a big hit anymore (proven by the number of intentional walks to Ryan Howard last year and this year when Burrell hit 5th in the order). Burrell has been put in a position to have numerous first-pitch fastballs come his way, but he has generally opted to take them and see what else is in the pitcher's arsenal. This supports my theory because any sensible power hitter would be sitting on that first-pitch fastball and swinging away.

By now Burrell has probably seen just about every pitch in the National League, though he hasn't been helped by his increasingly frequent time on the bench. For shame, Charlie Manuel. Burrell is just trying to live his version of the American Dream. The quest may live on though. In another clever and strategic manuever, Burrell's fielding has declined to the point that Manuel has taken to removing him in the late innings in favor of speedster Michael Bourn (who I really need to see more of, by the way. I love watching that kid run.) His poor fielding has led to the belief that he is only suited to play DH, thus necessitating a move to the American League. Brilliant. Playing in the AL would allow Burrell to see all new pitchers.

So there's your explanation Phillies fans. You may laugh now, but the joke will be on you when Pat Burrell releases Pat the Bat's Big Book of Every Pitch Ever (that may not be the final title, it's still in the works). Actually, the joke will be on me too...and the Phillies. Damn it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Are the Spurs a Dynasty?

With four championships in the last nine seasons, the Spurs have solidified their legacy on the game. But can they really be considered a dynasty?

No, they can't.

While 4 titles in 9 years in quite impressive, it doesn't qualify as a dynasty. The Spurs did not win any of the titles consecutively (not that Gregg Popovich minds. He told reporters "I don't give a s---," when asked about it last night.) and I can't quite label a team a dynasty when there was another dynasty during their reign. The Lakers won three straight titles in between the Spurs first two titles. As far as dynasty talk is concerned, it might be more appropriate to only count the last three titles, which were won in a five-year span.

No, the Spurs are not a dynasty, but what they have accomplished is truly special. The Spurs have been an elite team in the NBA for the past ten years, ever since Duncan joined the team in 1997. They have finished first or second in their division every one of those years. They placed no worse than fourth in the Western Conference in the last ten years, and they only finished fourth twice. All this in a period when the Western Conference was far more dominant the East.

Winning 70% of your games is tough on its own, but they did it six times while competing with the Stockton-Malone Jazz, the Kobe-Shaq Lakers, Chris Webber's Kings, Kevin Garnett's T'wolves, Dirk Nowitski's Mavericks, Steve Nash's Suns, and so on. All this with a salary cap and not a single lottery pick after Duncan. One could make the argument that what they've accomplished is more impressive than Bill Russell's Celtics. With a salary cap and a much larger league keeping the Spurs from adding high-priced talent, GM R.C. Buford has had a much more difficult task. I can already hear Celtics fans screaming at me for suggesting this and I'll calm them by saying that those Celtics were perhaps the only true dynasty and like I've said, that's not how to describe the Spurs.

Just because they are not a dynasty doesn't mean the Spurs should not be held in higher regard than other recent champions. We just need a different word for them. I propose "regime." It implies dominance, but one that can be spread out over a long period rather than strung together. For the past ten years, the Spurs regime has presided over the league. They have not been the best team every year, but they have always been very close to the top.

When we look back on the Spurs regime, we'll remember their understated domination. They lacked the star power and the hype of the Jordan's Bulls or Kobe and Shaq's Lakers, but they were in the mix for a championship every year for a ten-year period. And, of course, they aren't done yet. It's doubtful they will be until Tim Duncan has played his last game. It's difficult to rank the Spurs regime among the NBA's all-time great teams right now, but it's far from over. There's no telling how much longer it will last, and that is what makes it so impressive. There's no end in sight.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I've updated the Mock Draft again, partly in response to the Mike James-Juwan Howard trade. (Good move for both teams, though Minnesota doesn't really gain if Mike Conley is off the board by their pick.) Also, I've added second round picks. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

At Least It Was Close...

Well I feel kind of stupid. After I praised Daniel Gibson, he has an awful game with 1-10 shooting and 2 points. Still, 1-10 was what Larry Hughes put up in the first two games and Tony Parker wasn't as dominant tonight, so Gibson was still an improvement. And I stand by that playing a gimpy Hughes made no sense.

The guy who should feel really stupid after the Spurs edged the Cavaliers 75-72 is Anderson Varejao. That missed layup with 13 seconds left pretty much sealed the deal. LeBron did well to pass it off as he had no place to go, but Varejao had no business putting the ball on the floor. He should have passed it off and gotten the ball back to James instead of attempting a wild, awkward layup that had no real chance.

Thinking about it now, there may not be a more uncoordinated, raw player who puts the ball on the floor as much as Varejao does. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of his. I like his athleticism, his hustle, and of course his Sideshow Bob hair. But he has no business dribbling and driving as much as he does. He is in there to play defense, get offensive rebounds, and set picks. That's it. He scores most of his points off of put-backs and open layups and dunks, mostly off feeds from LeBron. And yet he shot below 50% on the season. Not what you want from that kind of player. In contrast, the Sixers' Samuel Dalembert, who I'd say is equally raw, shot 54% this year.

And yet, I can't entirely blame Varejao. I hate to heap blame onto one guy, but shouldn't Mike Brown be on top of this? Varejao's offensive adventures are nothing new, I saw them in every Cavs game I watched this year. Why doesn't Brown sit Varejao down and tell him he can't do that? What's Portuguese for "No" ? I almost want to give the guy a break because he's a solid player who just made one bad play, but he went to the basket almost instinctively. (Actually, it looked like he wanted to pull up and shoot the jumper for a split-second. Good thing he came to his senses and...oh wait.) If he was kept from making those moves in the regular season, he wouldn't have felt it was acceptable to haplessly drive to the basket tonight, instead of passing it off and getting it back to LeBron.

The one thing I will say for Brown is that he handled the end of the game reasonably well. He went for the quick two points with ten seconds left, instead of jacking a three. While I didn't like the last shot of the game, that looked like it was more LeBron's doing than it was Brown's play-calling. Of course, with five seconds left, it wouldn't have killed the Cavs to run some sort of play instead of inbounding to LeBron and having immediately launch a 26-footer. Maybe there wasn't much of a choice with the Spurs prepared to foul, but they could have worked a little harder to get him a clean look, or at least a closer look.

Of course, the real reason Cleveland lost is the poor outside shooting. LeBron had a solid game with 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, but his teammates went 3-14 from downtown. And a lot of these were open looks. He should have had at least 10 assists, if only he had competent teammates. Maybe that will change next year with improvement from Gibson and Pavlovic and the healthy return of Hughes, plus a free agent signing and maybe a draft pick (which they would have to trade for, they've got no picks this year otherwise). I would say that the Cavs will likely make a trade, but I'm not sure who they could give up and expect to get anything of value in return. Maybe Drew Gooden or Varejao. As good as LeBron is, Danny Ferry is going to have his work cut out for him if he wants the Cavs to make a return trip to the Finals next year.

All that said, give it up for the Spurs. They may not be flashy, but they know how to win and I think the dynasty talk is somewhat legitimate. I'll get into that in a later column, after the Spurs finish the job.

Can the Cavs Win Game 3?

To get right to the point, I think they can. As bad as they've been, Cleveland is going to have an excellent home court advantage. It may not be quite as good as the Golden State crowd in the first round, but I'm expecting something special from the title-depraved fans.

Another plus is that Daniel Gibson might actually get the start tonight. GASP! Starting your second-best player?! What a concept! Before I go overboard with sarcastic praise, I should point out that the main reason this might (and don't forget, it's still a "might" at this point) happen is because Larry Hughes may not be able to overcome his foot injury. I have to give credit to Hughes, who has been giving his all despite the injury, even if he hasn't been very effective. Good for him. Unfortunately it hasn't been so good for the Cavs, who must win tonight if they want to have a legitimate shot in the series.

Though you wouldn't believe that from talking to Mike Brown who said, "The team has a pretty good rhythm when [Hughes] starts." Really? They haven't had any rhythm the last two games, especially in the opening halves, and Tony Parker is starting to get praised as the Finals MVP (which he doesn't deserve, as good as he's been. Duncan is far and away more valuable, sorry Parker fans.). Hughes is a major liability defensively right now and he's never been a reliable enough shooter to make up for it on the other end, especially when he can't get to the rim effectively.

If Brown comes to his senses and plays Gibson for the majority of the game, the Cavs might just have a this one game. The Spurs will take the series.


I've updated my NBA Mock Draft so go ahead and take a look. Feel free to comment and tell me I'm wrong.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Another Finals Blowout

Listening to ESPN Radio this morning, the Sopranos series finale got a lot more air time than the NBA Finals. Not that I can blame them, I turned off the game in the third quarter. The game effectively ended when Mike Brown made yet another poor decision and benched LeBron early in the first quarter when he picked up his second foul. This would have been an acceptable move had it been Sasha Pavlovic or Drew Gooden in foul trouble, or maybe if this was the regular season, but in the NBA Finals? The Spurs can get away with sitting Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili because they have talent and depth, but LeBron is Cleveland's only legitimate scorer and playmaker. They can't win without him on the floor and it showed as they went into halftime down 25.

After seeing so many Cavaliers games, I have gained more respect for LeBron simply because it's evident that Mike Brown is a terrible game coach. He clearly knows how to teach the game and motivate his players, evidenced by the stalwart Cleveland defense and the rally in the Detroit series, but his in-game decision-making is extremely poor. The only good play I've seen him draw up was the one from the end of Game 1 of the Detroit series, when Donyell Marshall missed a wide-open three. That play was highly criticized, but it was well-drawn up. In Game 2 of that series, he must have instructed LeBron to run down the clock despite the fact that the Cavs trailed by a point and a quick two would have made more sense, especially with no timeouts left. The decision to pull LeBron last night was yet another reminder of his incompetence. I'm with Bill Simmons in suggesting he needs an offensive coordinator.

Meanwhile, Tony Parker is going to outscore LeBron in this series. The Cavs simply cannot keep up and they lack a shot-blocker to deter him when he inevitably gets to the paint. (It should be noted that Parker would not be nearly so effective without Tim Duncan. Duncan draws the attention of post defenders and keeps them from roaming and attempting to block shots, so let's not go too crazy on the "Tony Parker is a budding superstar" talk.) Cleveland has some serious work to do in the off-season. LeBron badly needs help to beat a team like the Spurs and the Eastern Conference might not be so weak next year. He'll certainly have a harder road to the Finals, where Detroit was the only decent team he played. LeBron may improve somewhat and Gibson could get better, but that's about it.

Let's hope the Cavs pick it up at home and make it interesting. It's getting depressing.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Clemens Can't Save the Yankees

In case you hadn't heard, Roger Clemens made his return to the Yankees yesterday. The Rocket was pretty good, especially for a 44-year old. His final stat-line was 6 IP, 3 ER, 2 BBs, 7 Ks and, of course, a win, all in 108 pitches. Okay, so it was against the Pirates who don't sport the most daunting lineup, but still for his first start back, the Yankees have to be pleased.

(By the way, isn't it about time Clemens got a new nickname that's more appropriate? "Rocket" doesn't really describe him anymore when his fastball tops out at 92-93 mph. Not to mention, he'll be making a lot more trips back to Houston than any spacecraft should. I propose changing his nickname to "Concorde." the Concorde is not quite a rocket, but it is pretty fast, overpriced, and it was retired in 2003.)

What's more significant than Clemens' return is that New York has now won 6 straight games and suddenly look like contenders again. But can does Clemens really deserve any credit for that? Sure, he gave them a quality start, but they scored 9 runs in that game. Even Matt DeSalvo could've won with that kind of support. They key to the Yankees' resurgence has been the improved hitting of Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu. They have dramatically improved the Yankees offense, which has been the main reason for their success the last few years. The Yankees will be able to slug their way to victories now, but they don't have the pitching to win the division. Obviously Clemens helps their pitching a little, just because, with all their injuries he gives them another healthy arm. But barring major injuries, Boston is just too good and their lead is too big. Clemens would have been the fourth best starter on the Red Sox, so he shouldn't be expected to dominate any Yankees-Red Sox games. New York's best hope and only hope is the wildcard. The sooner the Yankees realize that, the better off they'll be.

The real Concorde got passengers between New York and London effectively, but didn't exactly change aviation as we know it. Concorde Clemens will get the Yankees from here to there, albeit at great cost, but it will not change the final destination. That destination is, at best, a wildcard berth.

While I'm discussing pitchers who should be retired, the Phillies just signed Jose Mesa. Even if he doesn't pitch much (and he already did today for 1.1 IP and 2 ER), he scares the hell out of me. They already have Antonio Alfonseca, who is basically Jose Mesa 2.0. The two of them look alike, in body types and facial hair, and I can never feel safe with either one in to close out a game. Mesa, when he was competent, got the job done, but would always scare the hell out of his fans in the process and Alfonseca does the same exact thing.

It was bad enough that the Phillies lost 2 of 3 to the Royals, but I didn't need to see Mesa in a Phillies uniform again.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Spurs roll in Game 1

What did I say about Tony Parker? As I predicted, the Cavs had no answer for him and he scored 27 points. I had said before the Daniel Gibson was the only hope to stop Parker, but now I'm wondering if LeBron wouldn't be the best option. He might be the only Cav with the quickness to stay on Parker, and with his reach, James would be able to stay back a bit, playing for the drive, and still get a hand in his face. LeBron did guard him on a few possessions, but he may need to for the majority of the game. If nothing else, they could force Parker to beat them with deep jumpers.

The Cavs should also be concerned with their rebounding. The Spurs beat them on that front, and that is supposed to be Cleveland's strength. Gooden and Varejao had 8 rebounds between them and that won't cut it. To his credit, 3 of Varejao's 4 rebounds were on the offensive glass, but the Cavs have to do their jobs on the defensive boards as well, as the Spurs had 13 offensive rebounds.

The obvious concern for Cavs fans is LeBron's poor performance. It is true that LeBron struggled mightily early in the Detroit series, but after Games 5 and 6, one would think he'd be coming in with a ton of confidence and it was a little surprising that he played so poorly. Credit Bruce Bowen, but also the Spurs help defense. They play team defense better than anyone in the league and the Pistons should be taking notes. James found no easy route to the hoop and Tim Duncan made up for ESPN and ABC showing that dunk every 3 seconds by recording 5 blocks and helping the Spurs force LeBron into an uncharacteristic 6 turnovers. The Spurs team defense totally flustered James by not only intercepting his passes, but tipping them away, throwing the Cavs out of their offensive rhythm.

The only hope for Cleveland is that LeBron shows another major learning curve, the way he did against the Pistons (though Game 1 and 2 in that series were down to the wire). Maybe by Game 3 he'll have figured out the Spurs and how to beat them, but after one game it's looking an awful lot like the Spurs are going to roll. Then again, it's only one game.

Burrell delivers!

Stop the presses! Burrell got a clutch hit!

That was a ridiculous game. Gotta say, I genuinely did not expect the Phillies to recover from the Mets going back-to-back-to-back, but Burrell got the best of Wagner (which is especially funny considering their history).

Nice game for Burrell, with the 10th inning RBI double as well, but the Phillies shouldn't get the idea that Pat the Bat is back and move him up in the order. Batting 6th is perfect for him. He'll still get RBI chances, with Utley, Howard, and Rowand in front of him, and Rowand is a much better fit in the 5 slot. Burrell, with his impressive on-base percentage, could help get the bottom of the order going as well. It will be much easier for Abraham Nunez and Carlos Ruiz/Rod Barajas to get hits if there is someone on base for them 40% of the time. The other advantage to this move is that it allows Charlie Manuel to replace Burrell with Michael Bourn in late innings and then not have it come back to bite him when Howard comes up and is immediately walked because (until he reaches base) no pitcher is scared of Bourn.

As good as Burrell was yesterday, the most shocking part of this series from the Phillies perspective is the bullpen's performance. It was one thing for Geary, Madson, and Alfonseca to get the job done. They've proven themselves before. But to get two scoreless innings in a tight game out of Yoel Hernandez and Mike Zagurski, plus a third save in three nights for Alfonseca, was a very pleasant surprise. Zagurski, in particular, looked great. Yes, he got himself into that jam, but he got the big out and didn't look phased by the situation at all.

Of course, the Mets did do the Phillies a favor by refusing, once again, to hit Paul LoDuca second in the order, opting for Ben Johnson instead last night. I've heard this move defended by the Mets announcers, Michael Kay, and others, but I still don't buy it. The logic is that the Mets can't hit LoDuca 2nd because, with all their injuries, it would make the bottom part of the order automatic outs. There's no doubt relievers would be salivating over coming in to face a 6-7-8 of Ben Johnson, Carlos Gomez, and Ruben Gotay (though Jose Valentin is back now. Shouldn't that affect this decision?). But wouldn't you rather have some "automatic outs" late in the lineup than having one hit behind Jose Reyes, your most dangerous hitter? When the whole team is struggling to score runs, why not maximize your offensive production by putting all your good hitters together? With this approach you won't be able to score a run or even make a pitcher work hard in some innings, but with Reyes-LoDuca-Beltran-Delgado-Wright, they'll get some big innings. Why do the 6-8 hitters absolutely need to produce for a team to win in the National League, when there's a good chance the pitcher or pinch-hitter stalls the rally anyway. Willie Randolph may be forgetting he's not still in the American League. Obviously it'd be nice to get production throughout the lineup, but it seems like a waste of Reyes' immense talent to put a AAA quality player hitting second just so Paul LoDuca might get on base for Jose Valentin and Carlos Gomez.

Back to the Phillies though. This was a great win for them, completing the series sweep at Shea, but they MUST win their next series against Kansas City. I've seen the Phillies play down to mediocre teams way too often, especially after big wins. They can't take this series for granted. Doesn't even need to be a sweep, they just have to win two of three and take advantage of their easy Interleague schedule. Whatever they do from here on out, Mets fans aren't going to forget that series for a little while, and if the Phils can put a scare in them, that's worth something.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

NBA Finals Preview

I'm going to be a little unorthodox and start my preview with my series prediction. I'm taking the Spurs in 6. Now that I've told you who will win, I'll defend it. Just figured I'd save you the suspense. You're welcome.

The Cavaliers have a couple things going for them in this series, so I'll get those out of the way so I can explain why the Spurs will beat them:
1) San Antonio has no one defender who can stop LeBron James. Bruce Bowen is just too small. To be fair, I'm not sure there is anyone who can stop King James one-on-one right now.
2) Cleveland went 2-0 against the Spurs in the regular season and between Mike Brown and Danny Ferry, no front office is more familiar with San Antonio.
3) In Cleveland's regular season wins vs San Antonio, Sasha Pavlovic and Daniel Gibson had yet to crack the Cavs rotation. Both have been key for Cleveland in the playoffs and San Antonio has yet to get a good look at them.
4) LeBron showed against Detroit that he can lead his team to a win whether the defense plays him one-on-one or sends the whole team at him.

That looks like a good set of advantages for Cleveland. LeBron will either score on Bowen or pass out of the double team and let his teammates beat the Spurs, the coaching staff is familiar with the Spurs, and the Cavs have two new weapons that the Spurs have not seen...Not so fast. The Spurs are not the Pistons. They are incredibly disciplined and well-coached with Gregg Popovich at the helm. The approach the Spurs will probably take will be to take the rest of the Cavs out of the offense. Let LeBron have his 35. If they play everyone one-on-one, who else is going to score? I'll run down the Cavs other offensive options.

Daniel Gibson: He got everyone's attention after his 31 point Game 6, but most of those points came off open three-pointers. If any Cavs role player can score by creating his own shot, it's him, but he doesn't have the post-up game to take advantage of Tony Parker.
Drew Gooden: It's doubtful he can do much against Tim Duncan, especially considering how much energy he'll have to expend defending Duncan on the other end.
Larry Hughes: Since his injury he has not been explosive off the dribble, which is bad news for Cleveland because he scored 18 points in each of the regular season meetings.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas: He'll be a liability on defense, especially if the Spurs go small. Chris Webber ran rings around him, so Duncan won't have much trouble. If he draws Robery Horry or Francisco Elson he might be able to be productive on offense, but there's a good chance the Spurs bring in a small lineup and will make it hard for Mike Brown to keep him in the game.
The rest: Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones are useless if they don't get open looks, Varejao will set some good picks for LeBron, but the Spurs will either recover or switch, neutralizing the advantage, and Pavlovic and Eric Snow cannot be counted on for anything more than defense.

If LeBron thought it was tough putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them against Detroit, he has no idea what he's in for. If the Spurs force Cleveland's role players to beat them, he'll need to average something in the realm of 40 points per game. Not to mention the fact that those free throws attempts he got against Detroit will not come so easily, as San Antonio does not send their opponents to the line that often, as Allen Iverson found out in the first round. Plus, in Duncan the Spurs have a legitimate shot-blocker who can give LeBron a little trouble.

The Cavaliers are going to have their work cut out for them on defense as well. Gooden and Varejao might be able to do decent work on Duncan, but Ilgauskas does not stand much of a chance. However the biggest mismatch will be Tony Parker, who scored 20+ points in each of the regular season meetings. Yes, the Cavs shut down Chauncey Billups, but Parker is a completely different type of player. Billups gets his points on three-point shooting and by posting up smaller guards. He was unable to back down the Cavs guards due to the size of Larry Hughes and the strength of Daniel Gibson. Parker is smaller and quicker than the Cavs guards. Hughes doesn't have much chance of staying with him, especially playing hurt. Even defensive specialist Eric Snow is probably too slow, though he might see significant time on Manu Ginobili. Gibson is Cleveland's only hope of staying with Parker, and that's a lot of pressure to put on a rookie. Even if he does play effective defense on Parker, odds are expending all that energy will hurt his offensive production. Ginobili could be an X-factor, as the Cavs have some decent defenders to throw at him in Hughes, Pavlovic, and Snow, not to mention James, who played great defense on Tayshaun Prince in the last round. Michael Finley could also give the Cavs a little trouble, but more importantly, Ginobili, Finley, Bowen, Brent Barry, and Horry will all stretch the Cleveland defense with their three-point shooting ability.

Another key to the series will be the pace. While Cleveland is content to play a slower halfcourt-oriented game, using their size and offensive rebounding to their advantage, the Spurs can and will play fast-paced small-ball. With a small lineup of shooters, the Spurs can stretch the defense, giving Duncan more room to operate and also push the tempo, outrunning and wearing down the thin Cavaliers bench.

Bottom line: While LeBron James gives Cleveland a legitimate shot to beat the Spurs, San Antonio has too many weapons and is too well-disciplined, not to mention well-rested, to lose to this upstart Cleveland team.

That said, I'm pulling for the Cavs. If they do manage to win, this could be the start of something huge, both for Cleveland and the NBA.

Eastern Conference Finals recap

Everyone's got LeBron on the mind right now after the phenomenal performance he put up against Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals. After Game 2, LeBron seemed to turn the corner as a player. He showed a different mentality, understanding that he had to step up and take a leadership role and make things happen for his team. Obviously what stands out the most is his 48-point masterpiece in Game 5. He got to the rim at will and made seemingly impossible shots at the biggest possible moments. To me, the turning point was when he got in Antonio McDyess's face after his hard foul on Anderson Varejao. That was the display of leadership we'd all been waiting for. From there on out, the Cavs had the series in their clutches and with some help from Daniel Gibson, they won Game 6 in a blowout.

Yes, it was a great performance, but let's not get carried away. The Pistons were a flawed team. The biggest difference between this year and last year was the switch at center from Ben Wallace to Chris Webber. I could go into how Webber has always been a loser or how he is soft or how he quit on the Sixers and I can never root for him again, but...the issue isn't that Webber is a bad player or a bad fit for the team. They simply missed Wallace's shot-blocking. Without Big Ben in the middle, LeBron was able to attack the basket constantly and either draw fouls or score on earth-shaking dunks. Ben Wallace's departure left Rasheed Wallace as the only remaining shot-blocker and well...we all saw how that worked out. Combine that with Chauncey Billups' struggles, LeBron muscling Prince out of the post, and 'Sheed being his erratic self, and all Detroit was left with was Rip Hamilton. Basically the Pistons were all but neutralized offensively, and defensively had to choose between letting LeBron score at will or leaving shooters like Gibson wide open.

I'm not trying to say the Cavs weren't good or that they don't deserve to be in the Finals. The point is, Cleveland went up against a team that had a better reputation than deserved and had extremely favorable match-ups. San Antonio is going to be far more difficult. In my next post, I'll break down that series and give a prediction.


Well here's the first posting of the People's Sports Blog. It's taken me long enough to start writing a sports blog, far too long in fact. Might as well start out with a brief introduction of myself and this blog.

I'm saddled with the burden of being a Philadelphia sports fan, so if I ever come out as depressed, well there's why. That said, I promise to do my best not to spend all my time whining about how we haven't won a title since '83 and things haven't been looking up lately. No one needs to hear more of that. I'm a big NFL and baseball fan, but I consider myself an NBA guy first and foremost. I love football and baseball, but, put it this way, I spent way more time than is normal searching the internet for NBA Summer League scores last summer.

Don't get the idea that this is going to be a cut-and-dry boring blog. I like to think of myself as in the Bill Simmons model. For example, I found the Michael Vick dogfighting story way too funny. While everyone else was going on about cruel treatment to animals, I praised him for attempting to breed the perfect dog. If you thought that was funny, you'll enjoy this blog. If you found that offensive, well you might still like it, but seriously, lighten up.

Friday, June 1, 2007

NBA Mock Draft (updated 6/26)

1st Round
1PortlandCGreg OdenOhio StateDurant would be the better fit, as the Blazers have Zach Randolph and LaMarcus Aldridge, but they can't pass on the sure thing here
2SeattleFKevin DurantTexasOden would give them that center they've been pursuing for the last several years in the draft, but Durant is a nice consolation prize
3AtlantaPFAl Horford
Word out of Atlanta is that they are more interested in Horford than Wright now. Good call, but why not trade down and take Conley?
4MemphisPFJoakim Noah
FloridaThere is no clear-cut choice here, but Noah gives Memphis defense and rebounding and is more NBA-ready than Brendan Wright
5BostonFJeff Green
GeorgetownNow Danny Ainge says the Celtics will keep this pick. I'm still doubtful, but if they do, Green is their best option
6MilwaukeePGMike Conley
Ohio State
This pick could be traded, as many teams covet Conley, but if the Bucks keep it, Conley can back up and later replace Mo Williams
7MinnesotaCSpencer HawesWashingtonUntil the Garnett trade talk clears up it's hard to say what they'll do with this pick, but McHale is a fan of Hawes
8CharlottePFBrandan Wright
North CarolinaAt this point there is considerably less risk in taking Wright and Charlotte would add yet another Tar Heel (May, Felton, MJ)
9ChicagoPFYi JianlianChinaWith Hawes off the board, the Bulls can draft Yi and either trade the pick (to Golden State perhaps) or try to groom him into the big man they need
Julian Wright
KansasWright would give the Kings defense and rebounding and can play some point forward. The defense could be big as Artest could be moved
11AtlantaPGJavaris CrittentonGeorgia TechAs determined as the Hawks seem to avoid drafting a position they need, it's hard to see them drafting yet another forward.
12PhiladelphiaG/FCorey Brewer
FloridaWhat a steal this would be for the Sixers (and maybe wishful thinking on my part). Brewer's offense is overrated, but he'll be a stopper right away
13New OrleansSFThaddeus YoungGeorgia TechThornton would also be a solid pick, but at 18, Young has more upside. The Hornets were reportedly impressed by his workout
14LA ClippersPGAcie LawTexas A&MWhat better mentor for Law than his most common comparison, Sam Cassell? Livingston has not proven he can start or stay healthy
15DetroitF/CSean WilliamsBoston CollegeWilliams would be a great fit for the Pistons who need shot-blocking and intensity. Joe Dumars has shown he has no fear of cast-offs
16WashingtonSGNick YoungUSCIf DeShawn Stevenson's YouTube appearance has proven anything, it's that the Wizards need an upgrade at shooting guard
17New JerseyFAl ThorntonFlorida StateThe athletic forward would excel in a fast-paced Jason Kidd-run offense and would help make up for the loss of Vince Carter
18Golden StatePFJason SmithColorado StateSmith would be a great small-ball player, with great size, athleticism, and a nice shooting touch and should fit right in to Nellie's system
19LA LakersPGGabe PruittUSCYes, the Lakers have Jordan Farmar, but they need a backup if Smush Parker is let go or if Farmar is part of a major trade
20MiamiSGRodney StuckeyEastern WashingtonThe Heat get a young combo guard who can help ease the scoring load on Wade and should be able to knock down some open threes
21PhiladelphiaPFJosh McRobertsDukeHe may not have the perimeter game scouts thought he would develop, but he should be a capable scorer and rebounder
22CharlotteSGMorris AlmondRiceThe Bobcats can improve their scoring and depth at SG, which gives them a sort of Plan B if they can't land Vince Carter
23New YorkSFWilson Chandler
Like Renaldo Balkman, Chandler would likely be a 2nd round pick if he doesn't go here, but he probably got a promise from Isiah because he's cancelled his workouts
24PhoenixSGRudy FernandezSpainPhoenix needs another player who can play a little point guard and spell Steve Nash. Fernandez provides that and some shooting
25UtahSGMarco BelinelliItalyBelinelli would be an upgrade over Derek Fisher and Gordon Giricek and the Jazz could really use his three-point shooting
26HoustonPFGlen DavisLSUYao needs help as Houston has relied on Mutombo, Juwan Howard, and Chuck Hayes. Davis can help with scoring and rebounding
27DetroitSFDerrick ByarsVanderbiltByars ought to be an improvement for Detroit's bench and as a 6-7 220 lb senior, he should have the NBA-readiness the Pistons want
28San AntonioPFTiago SplitterBrazilSplitter won't be eligible to leave his Euroleague team until 2008, but the Spurs have the depth to be patient with him
29PhoenixSGDaequan Cook
Ohio State
The Suns would be hard-pressed to pass up on such a talented shooter this late in the draft, especially when he can play a little PG
30PhiladelphiaPFAli TraoreFranceWith four picks in this year's draft, the Sixers can afford to let Traore take his time and develop abroad for another year.
2nd Round
31SeattleCAaron Gray
Gray's plodding pace hurt his stock, but he could be a solid big man
32BostonCMarc Gasol
SpainNot as athletic as his brother Pau, but he can play in the low-post
33San AntonioPGTaurean GreenFloridaGreen should be an upgrade over Jacque Vaughn and Beno Udrih
34DallasSFDemetris NicholsSyracuseNichols gives Dallas another swingman and some outside shooting
35SeattleSFMarcus WilliamsArizonaVersatile swingman helps make up for the loss of Rashard Lewis
36Golden StateSFReyshawn TerryNorth CarolinaWarriors get more depth at small forward and a good shooter
37PortlandPGZabian DowdellVirginia TechPortland could trade up to get Conley, but if not they take a backup
38PhiladelphiaSFAlando TuckerWisconsinTucker's athleticism and rebounding would be a good fit in Philly
39OrlandoSGArron AfflaloUCLAOrlando needs help at shooting guard with Grant Hill leaving
40LA LakersSFJared DudleyBoston CollegeDudley does not seem to fit any NBA achetype, but he will find a way
41MinnesotaCKyle Visser
Wake Forest
Visser can provide some good low-post scoring to help Garnett
42PortlandPFNick FazekasNevadaHard to know how he will pan out. He can shoot, but he lacks bulk
43New OrleansPGRamon SessionsNevadaBobby Jackson ain't what he used to be and Paul needs a backup
44OrlandoPFHerbert HillProvidenceHill shined in his senior season and could be a sleeper this late
45LA ClippersSGJamesOn CurryOklahoma StateWith Cuttino Mobley declining, the Clippers need outside shooting
46Golden StatePGPetteri Koponen
An intriguing young point guard who will stay overseas to develop
47WashingtonCStanko Barac
BosniaNot very athletic, but a fundamentally-sound center with good size
48LA LakersSGTrey JohnsonJackson StateIf nothing else he can relate to Kobe, as a great scorer on a bad team
49ChicagoSFDominic McGuireFresno StateScott Skiles loves defense and the versatile McGuire can provide it
50DallasPFKyrylo Fesenko
UkraineAt 7-0, 245 lbs, he has great size, but he is still very raw
51ChicagoSGRenaldas SeibutisLithuaniaChicago would likely leave him in Europe and let him develop
52PortlandSFJoao Gomes
PortugalHe's been impressive at Eurocamp, though he's a few years away
53PortlandPGBobby Brown
CS FullertonMore of a combo guard, drawing comparisons to Bobby Jackson
54HoustonSGD.J. StrawberryMarylandLimited potential, but might develop into a solid role player
55UtahSGJ.R. Reynolds
VirginiaA bit undersized at 6-3, but good shooting range and quickness
56MilwaukeeCChris Richard
FloridaA good athlete with an NBA body, but he's shown limited production
57DetroitSGBrad Newley
AustraliaHe'll take a few years to develop, but great scoring ability
58San AntonioPFStephane LasmeMassachusettsAveraged an impressive 5.1 blocks per game in his senior year
59PhoenixPGJared Jordan
MaristThe Suns would have to be happy to get Jordan with such a late pick
60DallasSGRon Lewis
Ohio State
Dallas could always use another shooter and they get one here

Pat the Bat's Big Book of Every Pitch Ever