Saturday, June 29, 2013

NBA Draft Goes South

What's Plan B?

For a lot of people, the NBA draft went south right outta the gate, when the Cleveland Cavaliers picked Tony Bennett with the 1st overall pick. Not that Tony Bennett. This one will be bringing his heart from Las Vegas to Cleveland, where Cavs fans hope he'll want to leave it after the 3 years of his rookie contract are done. We'll see how that goes.

But, there's hardly a draft observer who didn't say the Cavs would go big--meaning either Maryland's Alex Len, 7-1, or 7-footer Nerlens Noel of Kentucky. And almost nobody didn't say the Noel and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore were the 2 top players in the pool in terms of long-term upside potential.

Well, there was 1 who said the Cavs would not go big, but I said they'd pick Georgetown forward Otto Porter, who ended up going to Washington at #3. But, no, the Cavs grabbed Bennett, and the next 6 teams in line suddenly were all going, "Holy sh*t! What's Plan B? I forget!" And based on what happened next, they weren't that hot on the 2 allegedly best players in the pool and were hoping like crazy that Cleveland and Orlando would get 'em off the table so they wouldn't end up getting stuck with 'em.

But Orlando at #2 went with Indiana guard Victor Oladipo, who went from about #100 to #2 since the start of the college season. Washington took Porter. And with Len and Noel still available, Charlotte had little choice but to go big. But they grabbed another Hoosier, Cody Zeller, who, unlike Len and Noel, has the mobility to play the big forward spot.

So, after 5 picks, the 2 best players in the pool (McLemore and Noel) and the 2 guys who figured to be #1 (Len and Noel) were all 3 still cooling their heels in the green room. But they fell no further and the reluctant recipients of the big 3 were Phoenix (Len at #5), New Orleams (Noel at #6) and Sacramento (McLemore at #7). But then, adding insult to injury, N'Awlins immediately moved Noel to Philadelphia for a dish of jelly beans.

Flip's Picks

But the fact is that all of this had absolutely nothing to do with the Minnesota Timberwolves. For the Wolves and Flip Saunders the draft was humming along, exactly according to plan. It went out of order, to be sure, but by the 7th pick the top 7 were gone and the pool contained exactly the players Flip thought it would.

But that is when the draft went south for Flip Saunders and the Minnesota Timberwolves, when the Detroit Pistons grabbed the guy that everybody knew Flip coveted--6-5 shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of Georgia. Given what transpired later in the evening, you know that Flip called the Pistons on the phone and offered them a couple of draft picks for the rights to KCP. The Pistons presumably said no.

Now it was Flip's turn to go to Plan B. He picked a guy he didn't want, Trey Burke, but who he figured would have the best trade value, then found a trade partner (Utah) who had a pair of 1st round picks remaining (#14 and #21). So far, so good, I guess.

But the fact is he coulda picked the guy I had at #8, C.J. McCollum, 6-3, shooting guard, from Lehigh. Time will tell whether McCollum might have been a better fit. If he proves to be the 2nd coming of Stephon Curry, you'll know that Flip screwed the pooch. OK, C.J. is just 6-3 and Flip wanted some size. But Flip also wanted a shooting guard and McCollum is a shooting guard, whereas the Wolves' ultimate pick at #14 is not.

I mean, 2-for-1 looks good on paper, sure. But by the time the teams got down to #14 there wasn't a shooting guard in sight. Utah picked Shabazz Muhammad, 6-6, from UCLA, who is listed as a guard on the draft tallies but has really never played guard in his life. He's a small forward. Sergey Karasev, a 6-8 Russian picked at #19 by Cleveland, is listed as a guard, but he hasn't proven that he can play the 2. He's a small forward. And Tony Snell, 6-7 from New Mexico, is listed as a guard but has really been a small forward all his life.

If the idea was to find a shooting guard, #14 wasn't a very auspicious spot to do it, and that was easily foreseeable by the time the draft had wound its way to #9.

Shabazz Muhammad

OK, but now you've got the 14th pick and you gotta make lemonade. So, in Shabazz Muhammad the Wolves have ended up with a guy who is not (yet) a shooting guard and who has fallen from #1 in his class to #14 while Victor Oladipo went almost exactly in the opposite direction. Why? What happened? Well, he's a scorer, they say. And he better be, because he does not do anything else on the court. He does not pass the ball (less than 1 assist per game). He dogs it on defense--he had just 2.5 defensive rebounds per game, less than 1 steal and just 4 blocked shots all year. And, actually, he's not that great of a scorer, he needed a lot of shots to score 18 ppg in his 1st and only season at UCLA. He shot 44 percent from the field, and 38 percent on the 3. Over the last 3 games of the season, as UCLA's season unraveled (losing its final game to massively disappointing Minnesota), he shot 15-of-42 (36 percent) and 0-for-9 for 3 points. With 1.6 turnovers per game, his A/T ratio was 0.5.

And now it turns out that he (and his dad) had lied about his age for his entire life, just so he would look better in the basketball evaluations. 19, they said, but now we know he's 20. Which means there's less upside, less development, less improvement that's likely to occur.

If Flip hadn't rescued the guy, who knows how far he might have fallen.

And, again, he's not a guard, as far as we know. That's what they call him, but that's a wish, not a fact.

Gorgui Dieng

So with the 2nd pick at #21 Flip went big. And luckily there was some big talent on the board around #21, unlike scoring guards at #14. Immediately after Flip picked Dieng, the Nets took Mason Plumlee. Between the 2, I woulda preferred Plumlee.

Plumlee 6-10, 235, 23 years 17 ppg 10 rebounds 1.5 blocks
Dieng 6-11, 245, 23 years 10 ppg 9 rebounds 2.5 blocks

Another way to go, however, was this: Once you find yourself at #14 with no shooting guards available, and if you want a 2 and a big, just go ahead and go big at #14. Immediately after the Shabazz pick at #14, Milwaukee picked 6-9 Giannis Antetokuonmpo from Greece and Boston picked 7-footer Lucas Noguiera from Brazil. Of the 2, Noguiera is both the better prospect and the bigger of the 2 at 7-feet even. He's also bigger than either Plumlee or Dieng, and younger at 20 years, and he's got a massive 7-foot-5 wingspan.

Take Noguiera at #14 and at #21, well, you still don't have a real shooting guard available. So pick somebody you can trade, just like we did at #9!


So, personally, I think Flip blew it. I'm not a Shabazz fan and while I've got nothin' against Dieng, I like Plumlee better.

So the better play was 1) just take C.J. McCollum at #9 and be done with it.

Or 2) Go big at #14 with Noguiera and do some more trading at #21.

Or 3) take Karasev at #14 and Plumlee at #21.

As it is, I think it's fair to say that neither Shabazz nor Dieng is going to be much of a factor in 2014. We'll find out this weekend whether Nikola Pekovic is going to explore the free agent route or not, and just how much more rebuilding Flip is going to have to do. Trust me, there is more roster management to come. Has to be since the draft didn't plug any of the Wolves' obvious holes. But the Flip Saunders era hasn't started well. Maybe it's our fault (the media, the fans) for ever thinking that this draft would actually matter. But that still doesn't mean Flip didn't make the least of it.

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