June 22, 2011
Since Joe already beat me to the mock NBA draft, I’ll take a look at story lines to watch and potential trades that may go down this Thursday. Around this time each year, the rumor mill begins churning full throttle as the draft becomes near and free agency begins. This year, with the NBA lockout looming over our heads, potentially limiting the free agency period, there is even more excitement around the draft. Excitement despite a widely believed weak draft class, which coincidentally, is attributable to the expected lockout. Is your head spinning? It may spin a little more after reading this.
Cleveland Tries to Replace LeBron
As a lifelong Cavalier fan, I’m willing to realize that we Cleveland fans might be the only people extremely interested in this NBA draft. Not only will we get a building block to revamp the team, but two. But despite Cleveland’s feelings regarding LeBron post-decision, I don’t think anyone believes he can be replaced. Two picks in the top five is a start, though.
Despite the smoke signals being sent out by the front office, I fully expect them to take Kyrie Irving numero uno. He’s the safest bet in a risky draft, and coach Byron Scott needs a strong point guard to build around and run his offensive system. Baron Davis is great when he wants to be, but is on the back end of his career. And Ramon Sessions showed signs of progress at the end of last season, but he’s better suited as a scoring option off of the bench. Irving has to be the pick.
With the fourth pick, they’ll take…? If they keep the pick, they need a stronger front court, leaving it a tossup between Enes Kanter and Jonas Valanciunas. Contradicting reports have surfaced recently regarding who they favor, but now that Valanciunas’s European buyout won’t allow him to join the NBA until the 2012-2013 season, the Cavs will likely pick Kanter. If it was me, I would take the European with higher potential, knowing they’re years away from competing anyways – why not take the risk? But I’m sitting on my couch watching Seinfeld right now, and they’ve been thinking about these picks nonstop since the lottery last month.
There’s also chatter they may trade down/up, but the rumors surrounding that notion are so vast and likely lack substance, until something happens, it’s better assuming they keep the pick.
Timberwolves and the #2 Pick
Minnesota has publicly admitted to shopping the second pick. The team, who’s had trouble rising from the bottom tier of the NBA since trading Kevin Garnett, has enough young talent to potentially make a jump. Kevin Love was an All-Star, and Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph possess high potential. Not to mention the highly touted Ricky Rubio is finally leaving Spain to join the T-Wolves. So the team doesn’t need another young talent, but a few veteran pieces to help them move forward.
Likely trade partners are those interested in taking Arizona forward Derrick Williams. The list includes Cleveland, the Washington Wizards, and Phoenix Suns, to name a few. But with Minnesota likely waiting till the last minute for an offer to “blow them away,” there’s a chance they hold on to the pick and take Williams, potentially trading his rights after the draft (Note: Lockout likely will begin the next day, so this option is murky at best).
Who Will Exceed Expectations?
Other than Irving, there are a lot of question marks surrounding the 2011 NBA draft class. Even more, after the first few picks, the draft order becomes fluid. Players like Kanter, Valanciunas, Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, Kawhi Leonard, Jan Vesely, and Bismack Biyombo could go from the 5th pick to as low as the 15th. Internal battles inside front offices will weigh the value of potential over need. So who will rise to become NBA studs and all-stars in the next few years?
Predicting this year’s rookie class’s impact on the league in a few years is as easy as deciding between Megan Fox and Brooklyn Decker. But ignoring the impossibility of this task, Vesely will be the best player out of this group. He’s tall at 6’11, but fits the mold of small forward, looking to run in open court and stretch the floor. If he falls to the Wizards, they’ll be ecstatic.
One prospect to keep an eye on is Norris Cole, point guard out of Cleveland State. Draft pundits are raving over his workout performances, and the buzz is if he would have gone to a big time school, would be a top ten pick. Depending on where he lands, if he’s in the right situation, Cole may become the steal of the draft.
April 20, 2011
The NBA Playoffs are a proving ground for young NBA players. The new kids on the block can look great at times during the regular season, showing flashes of greatness, but the greats show what they’re made of in the postseason. Aside from Wilt Chamberlain type stat lines, fans don’t remember your regular season performance. In the grand scheme, it doesn’t matter. The playoffs do. It’s where great NBA players become Hall of Famers, and great teams become dynasties.
A fantastically exciting regular season has led us to high expectations for these 2011 NBA Playoffs, sure not to disappoint, with a few rising stars you need to keep an eye on. Of course, we have Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but their thrones may be in jeopardy if these NBA players live up to their hype.
It’s hard to put into words how much Derrick Rose progressed through the season, but I will. Picked as one of the top three NBA teams in the Eastern Conference early on, the Chicago Bulls suffered various injuries to their frontline. Carlos Boozer, their prize free agent signing, was lost for six weeks with a broken thumb before the first game. Then, defensive stalwart Joakim Noah tore a ligament in his thumb and was lost for six weeks.
Not a problem for Rose. He carried the team through the rough patch nearly single handedly (not to diminish the performance of the rest of the team, a series of perfect role players for Coach Tom Thibodeau’s system). And when Boozer and Noah came back, the Bulls went full steam ahead to the number one overall seed. It’s laughable to think that NBA experts suggested Michael Beasley be drafted number one overall instead of Rose.
But as I said, his regular season performance pales in comparison to what he needs to do in the playoffs to begin his legacy. Rose has big shoes to fill in Chicago, where a guy name Michael Jordan dominated the league for the better part of the 1990s. While there will never be another MJ, Rose has shown he’s more than ready to take the Bulls back to dynasty status. Rose scored 39 points in Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers, with a key drive and kick out to Kyle Korver to ice the game, and another 36 points in Game 2. The first round is supposed to be a warm up for the top seeds. If tradition remains true, I can’t wait to see what D-Rose does the rest of the NBA Playoffs.
Touted as an amazing pure scorer coming out of Texas, Durant has lived up to the hype. A wet jump shot, ability to twist his way to the rim, and a great system have helped propel KD to NBA superstardom. But playoff success has eluded him so far.
Last season, Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder pushed the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers to the sixth game of the first round. A correct box out by Serge Ibaka would have most likely sent the series to seven. That’s an incredible leap for such a young team. But although Durant’s team had a good series, his performance was not up to his regular season numbers.
Fast forward to this year, and OKC has secured a fourth seed and become a trendy pick to make it to, and even win, the NBA Championship. Durant knows his performance the previous postseason was not acceptable for legacy building and is making up for it by starting with 41 points and 9 rebounds in a win over the Denver Nuggets.
As a sophomore, Westbrook’s performances mostly fell into the shadow of Kevin Durant. There were flashes of what would be – a diesel train into the paint, much like Derrick Rose – but it took the 2011 NBA season for fans to see what Westbrook is capable of. The UCLA product has become a solid second option behind Durant and one of the top five point guards in the league. Some analysts say Westbrook still has a lot of room to improve, that he still makes a lot of “rookie mistakes” a Hall of Fame point guard shouldn’t make (true), but he’s only in his third year. I’d argue that Westbrook is nearly as important to the Thunder as Durant, and Durant’s star would not be shining as bright with another point running the offense. Batman’s Robin added 31 points and 7 assists to help push the team to a Game 1 win. In all likelihood, Durant and Westbrook will rise together – each as important as the other.
So while you’re watching the NBA Playoffs and marveling at Kobe Bryant’s campaign for a sixth championship, or the Miami Heat’s big three’s attempt to justify their offseason decisions, remember the young guys. I’ve heard stories of fans watching MJ, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird rise from stars to legends. Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook offer the younger fans a chance to enjoy the transformation themselves.