Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Damian Lillard vs. Jrue Holiday

Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday are both 24 years old and they are both starting PG's on teams in the Western Conference playoffs. That's about the only two things they have in common. Holiday has been injured for most of the last two seasons and he shares the ball with Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans when he is on the floor. Lillard is a two-time All-Star who dominates the ball, racks up big stats and has made a number of game-winning shots. Holiday is in the middle of a 4-year $40 million deal while Lillard is almost certain to receive a max contract in the off-season. The fine folks at ESPN NBA Rank had Lillard as the #16 player in the whole league and Holiday checking in at #73. We're talking a difference in kind, not degree.

It wasn't always like that. Coming out of high school, Holiday was one of the most sought after players in the country. Yahoo had him as the No. 2 player in his high school class, behind only BJ Mullens. He played in Los Angeles and wound up signing with UCLA, the latest in a long line of elite PG recruits for Ben Howland, who was coming off three straight Final Four appearances. Lillard was a two-star recruit from Oakland who wasn't ranked by most of the services and who wound up signing to Weber State. Rivals gave him the generic picture on his profile page. They ranked 35 PG's in the class of 2008 and they still didn't have Lillard on the list.

As a freshman, Holiday played off the ball next to Darren Collison, not getting the chance to put up the type of stats expected out of most one-and-done freshman. Nevertheless, the glimpses of his physical tools at UCLA, as well as all the recruiting hype, meant he had no problem securing a spot in the first round. He probably would have benefited from another year of school but there was a lot of speculation that he was tired of Ben Howland's more restrictive half-court offense and that he just wanted to leave as soon as he could. He wound up being the 5th PG taken in a first round that featured 11 - Ricky Rubio, Johnny Flynn, Steph Curry, Brandon Jennings, Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, Collison, Rodrigue Beaubois and Toney Douglas. There was no reason to pay much attention to him in the NBA unless you had already been following him from high school. 

It was a much slower build to the NBA for Lillard. He averaged 11 points as a freshman and 20 points as a sophomore, which would have been enough to get him into the first round if he had been playing in a bigger conference. Playing in the Big Sky, missing the NCAA Tournament and never playing on national TV meant there was almost no buzz for Lillard when it came to the draft. He wound up staying all four seasons of college and put up absolutely ridiculous numbers as a senior - 24 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists on 47% shooting. Those numbers are a pretty good indication that Lillard was overqualified to still be in college but there are a lot of conferences out there and those are the type of numbers you have to put up to get noticed that far out of the beaten path.

While Lillard was toiling in the NCAA's, Holiday was gradually growing into a bigger role for the Philadelphia 76ers. He averaged 8 points a game as a 19-year old rookie before getting to 14 points in his second and third seasons. He was one of a number of guys - Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Evan Turner, Thad Young and Elton Brand - sharing the ball on a Philadelphia 76ers team that made it out of the first round once, when they were the 8 seed and they beat the Chicago Bulls after Derrick Rose tore his knee for the first time. They were a lot like the latest version of the Toronto Raptors and Holiday's role was similar to Terrence Ross - a young guy who was just one of the guys on an average to decent team.

After four years at Weber State for Lillard and three relatively uneventful years in Philly for Holiday, they both had a breakthrough in 2013. Lillard was drafted at No. 6 by the Portland Trail Blazers while the 76ers decided to blow up their team, shipping off Iguodala as part of a package for Andrew Bynum. Holiday wound up making the All-Star team at 22, averaging 18 points and 8 assists a game on 43% shooting, by far the best numbers of his career. However, without Bynum and with only Evan Turner still there for Holiday to lean on, the 76ers slipped into the middle of a pretty bad pack in the Eastern Conference. Lillard, meanwhile, averaged 19 points and 6.5 assists on 43% shooting as a rookie, playing well enough to even beat out Anthony Davis (3 years younger) for Rookie of the Year. After all those years in the shadow, things took a quick turn for Lillard. 

All that time in school meant Lillard was ready to play a huge role right away and he walked into the perfect situation in Portland. He wasn't a young guy being asked to find his way on a team full of young guys - he was playing with proven two-way players at SG (Wes Matthews), SF (Nic Batum) and PF (LaMarcus Aldridge). LMA gave him a post-up guy he could spot-up off and a stretch 4 who could open up driving lanes while Matthews and Batum both spread the floor and covered for him on defense. When Portland brought in Robin Lopez, they had a core of older two-way veterans at every position around their young PG. Just as important, Matthews, Batum and RoLo could all impact the game without holding the ball so Lillard was given free reign to shoot as much as necessary.

Holiday was forced to play a much smaller role on a 76ers team with veterans who A) weren't as good as the Portland guys and B) needed the ball in their hands a lot more. Things only got worse when he wound up in New Orleans, where he shares a backcourt with Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans, two guys who need a lot of shots, minutes and touches. When healthy, Holiday averaged 14 points and 7 assists a game on 45% shooting and that's about all you could expect for a PG who has to play with Gordon and Evans. There just aren't as many shots to go around in New Orleans and if Dame were playing for the Pels he would have to change his game in order to find a way to help his team win.

On the court, the biggest difference between the two players is that Holiday is considered one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA while the Trail Blazers hide Lillard on D. At 6'4 210 with a 6'7 wingspan, Holiday is an elite athlete with long arms and great size for his position, capable of matching up with all three perimeter spots. He did a good job of switching and sliding between a number of different players in the Warriors series, which was far more competitive than the outcome would suggest. Lillard played great against the Rockets in last year's first round, when he could hide on Patrick Beverley, a defensive specialist. When they faced the Spurs in the 2nd round, his inability to keep his man in front of him was one of the main reasons for the Blazers undoing, as they couldn't hide him at the 1 (Tony Parker), the 2 (Manu Ginobili) or the 3 (Kawhi Leonard). It has been the same story in this year's playoffs - Mike Conley was destroying Dame before being knocked with a facial injury.

Here's the real problem when comparing any two guys in the NBA, even ones who play the same position. Even with all the advanced statistics out there, there's no real way to isolate the differences between the actual ability of the players and the role they have on their respective teams. The archetypal example of this is Chris Bosh vs. Kevin Love. Bosh was the 3rd option on a Miami team built around LeBron and Wade while Love was the 1rst option on a Minnesota team built around him. Love had the better statistics (which you would expect) and Bosh had more team success (which you would expect). You put Love as a 3rd option in Cleveland move Bosh becomes the main guy in Miami and it's a whole different situation. Did they really change all that much as players in the meantime? Or was the difference in their stats really just a matter of the roles they had? 

If you put Holiday in Lillard's shoes in Portland, you would probably end up redistributing a few possessions away from PG and moving them on to lower-efficiency guys. The upside of doing this is you would have a much more qualified on-ball defender - the trio of Holiday, Matthews and Batum would be absolutely murder on opposing teams who are trying to initiate offense with 1-on-1 moves off the dribble on the perimeter. If you put Lillard in Holiday's shoes in New Orleans, you would have more guys hoisting 3's off the dribble and you might end up with a few fights between Lillard, Gordon and Evans about who gets to dominate the ball and who has to spend time spotting up in the corner. On the other side of the ball, a Pels defense that could barely keep itself together would have nowhere to hide Dame. 

A guy whose pretty good on offense and is great on defense can be more valuable than a guy who is great on offense and average at best on defense. Basketball is played on both sides of the floor and good two-way players are the key to winning games in the playoffs. Jrue Holiday may not put up huge statistics in New Orleans but he's a guy without any glaring holes in his game so his presence in any five-man line-up instantly makes that group more capable of floor spacing, defending, passing, ball-handling and shot creating. Lillard can improve a team on offense but he has to be hidden on defense and he's definitely not helping you on both sides of the ball. That may not always come across in the regular season when he's playing next to Matthews and Batum but that has been an issue for Portland in the playoffs and it will be until Dame decides to really commit himself to defense. 

At the end of the day, it's all hypotheticals. It doesn't really matter whether Jrue Holiday is a better two-way player than Damian Lillard since there's zero chance either of their teams will be deciding between the two of them at any point in the near future. For the most part, they are two ships passing at night, playing different roles on teams at different stages in the competitive cycle and only facing each other a limited number of times in a season depending on the vagaries of the NBA schedule. There is only time where that scenario would really matter and that's if Portland and New Orleans faced each other in a playoff series. Then you would start breaking down the match-ups and it would be about whether Holiday can guard Lillard better than he can guard him and vice versa. 

As long as Anthony Davis stays in New Orleans and LaMarcus Aldridge stays in Portland, you would expect both teams to be perennial contenders in the Western Conference. If LMA leaves, Lillard faces the first real crisis of his NBA career and he will have to become a much better player just to keep Portland where they are, much less improve them. Holiday has had to play the background while Davis has been developing over the last two seasons, but maybe the roles for Holiday and Lillard switch once again, with a bad Portland team fading from national view while New Orleans is playing classic playoff series every year. The main thing for Holiday is staying healthy - he's going to be playing with Anthony Davis in his prime so he's going to get a lot of chances to go 1-on-1 with other PG's in a seven-game series.

Those individual match-ups are what makes the playoffs great and that's really where I think basketball separates itself from most of the other major team sports. I have to guard you and you have to guard me. That doesn't happen in football. The batter doesn't get to try to strike the pitcher out in baseball. The goalie doesn't get to slap shots back at the other goal in hockey. When two players at the same position are going 1-on-1, it doesn't matter who has the bigger shoe deal or who has been in more TV commercials. It don't matter who has the most money, who has the bigger national reputation or who has done more in the NBA. It doesn't even really matter what their statistics are against everyone else. Mike Conley vs. Damian Lillard has been pretty one-sided in these playoffs. Maybe Holiday vs. Lillard would look like that or maybe it wouldn't. After as many as 7 straight games going at one another, we'd have a pretty good idea of who the better basketball player was.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Beating The Warriors

The Golden State Warriors are easily the most fascinating storyline of the playoffs because we still know so little about them. Any team that wins 67 games, especially given how stacked the West is, is a potential juggernaut who has to be favored to win the NBA championship. However, when a team wins that many games it's usually on the tail end of a dominant run, after they have already established themselves as perennial contenders. This is only Golden State's 3rd trip to the playoffs and this is really the first time this particular group of players has been together. I say that because switching out David Lee for Draymond Green is what has taken this group to the next level so this is the first season that the Bogut-Green-Klay-Steph core has been tested.

The Warriors are a good example of why I think PF is the most important position in the modern NBA. The guy you have at that spot is who dictates the identity of your team. So there's only so much you can take away from their first two trips to the playoffs, when they had Harry Barnes and David Lee, respectively, at the position. A Golden State team with Draymond Green at the 4 is potentially revolutionary in a number of ways and they present unique strengths in how they attack and unique weaknesses in how they can be attacked. That's what these playoffs are ultimately about to me - how will Golden State be tested and are they really as unbeatable as they looked in the regular season?

They have looked dominant at times in their first two wins over the Pelicans, but those games were both played in Oracle and the 8 seed acquitted themselves well for the most part. After getting punched in the mouth in Game 1 the Pels came back and made it a game before falling short in the fourth quarter. In Game 2, New Orleans was the team that came out aggressive, controlling the action for most of the first half before ultimately succumbing to a 2nd-half comeback and being unable to execute in the 4rth quarter against a stifling Warriors defense. The Pels have shown enough to where you think they would be able to get at least one game in New Orleans. Then it will just come down to whether they can hold that 2nd game and turn it into a series. Here's what I would be looking at if I were them.

1) Don't turn the ball over + control tempo

This probably goes without saying in any playoff series, as it's virtually impossible to beat a good NBA team if you are constantly coughing up the ball and giving them easy run-outs. However, it does feel especially true with the Warriors, given that they have the No. 1 rated offense and the No. 1 rated defense in the league. Teams with that profile are generally going make an absolute killing going defense to offense. They have a bunch of long athletes at every position and their goal is to get into you and dictate tempo. If they can speed you up and force you to turn the ball over, you have pretty much no chance. Pretty much everyone but Bogut can push it up the court which makes it really hard to pick up Steph and Klay in transition and those guys walking into transition 3's has to be the most efficient offense in the league.

Take a look at the box score from Game 2. Both teams had 13 TO's yet somehow Golden State had 24 fast break points to only 7 for New Orleans. That's the difference in the game right there. I'd almost be paranoid enough to where I wouldn't want to push the ball too much against them - take a bad shot in transition and you might as will give them 3 points the other way. That's why I think the absence of Jrue Holiday is so important in this series. Tyreke Evans has been distributing the ball well but he still takes a lot of bad shots and doesn't always have a great feel for controlling tempo. You have to have a great PG whose not going to get sped up and who turns the game into station-to-station basketball while still being able to selectively run and get easy baskets.

2) Make the 3 and 4 positions shoot the ball

The Warriors aren't so much a great shooting team as they are a team with two great shooters who hoist 3's from anywhere with no conscience. Everything in their offense is revolved around getting Klay and Steph open looks from 3 so that's the first thing you have to take away as the opposing team. You can't give them open shots off screens - you have to make them give up the ball or take them with a hand in their face. Just as important is sticking to the Splash Brothers when the ball is moving around the perimeter. You have to give up something against the Warriors and you would rather it be from 3's from the other guys - Harry Barnes, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa.

3) Don't let their front-court players beat you as passers

Part of what makes Golden State great is that everything fits together. There aren't many passing tandems at the 4 and 5 position better than Draymond and Bogut which means the Warriors can run offense through their big men and play both Steph and Klay off the ball. The key is you have to make their big guys score the ball, particularly Bogut, because he doesn't want to do it. A good example of is when the guards come off screens and the other team doubles, they are going to slip the ball to either of the big men rolling to the basket. At that point what you don't want to do is have the help-side commit to hard to the big because that opens up a 3-on-2 behind and they are looking to find the shooters. You want to stop short and make Draymond or Bogut beat you with the pull-up jumper or take the ball all the rim.

In Game 2, Bogut was 2-5 from the field and Draymond was 4-12. The more FGA's the Warriors big men have, the better your chances are. Draymond in particular missed a bunch of floaters at the rim that could have gone in but those are the shots you want to live with. He is only 6'6 so he can have trouble finishing in traffic against longer players. If Draymond Green is going to score 20-25+  then you are going to lose but you want to see if he can do that consistently. There's a fine line you have to draw because you don't want to sell out completely on the Splash Brothers and give everyone else wide open looks either - I wouldn't double Steph 28+ feet from the basket like the Clips were doing in last year's playoffs. A lot of this comes down to personnel and having a ton of length and athleticism to shrink the floor against the Warriors, which might be the biggest plus the Pels have in this series.

4) You have to be able to score 1-on-1 on their big men

Easier said than done but I think it's a must for any team that wants to pull off the upset. The Warriors are just too good on defense and they have too many athletes who are trying to turn you over for swinging the ball around the court and playing a lot of motion offense to beat them. Maybe the Spurs can do it but most teams are going to end up turning the ball over against Golden State if there are too many moving parts on offense. For one thing, the number of long athletes they have at the 3 and 4 positions allows them to switch just about every pick-and-roll if they want too. The Warriors are built around the elite 1-on-1 defensive skills of Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green - if you can beat those two guys at the front of the rim, it collapses the defense, opens up everything else and forces them to change up their game-plan.

Here's an analogy. When Karl Rove was George W. Bush's campaign manager, his favorite tactic was going after someone's strength. Most political campaigns were structured around finding the weakspot in the opponent's image and attacking it - Rove went out of his way to attack their strong points. What was Al Gore's biggest selling point in 2000? Bill Clinton. So Rove brought up the Clinton scandals, forced Gore to dissociate from the President and robbed the Dems of their biggest talking point. In 2004, Rove attacked John Kerry's war record because without that what was Kerry really? If John Kerry wasn't a war hero, what the hell was he then? That's also what he did in 2000 against John McCain. Take away the foundation of their identity as a candidate and they had nothing left.

--> Scoring against Draymond

It's easy to fall into the trap of let's post up the 6'6 PF but the Warriors know that is coming and it's surprisingly difficult to leverage a height mismatch in the post. Draymond is super strong, he has really long arms and he has a really low center of gravity so it's almost impossible to wedge him off his spot. And since he's so small, the refs are going to give him a lot of leeway to basically maul the opposing big men and try to steal the ball on the entry pass. If you are trying to post up Draymond Green he's going to do the equivalent of beating you over the head with a 2x4.

That's why I love what Anthony Davis has been starting to do in this series. Leverage that length advantage by facing him up, being strong with the ball and using the threat of the jumper to create driving lanes to the rim. It's much harder for the defense to play physical when the big man is facing them up because all the action is happening right on the ball. Davis needs to hit Draymond with that Carmelo Anthony game - face-up, knee-to-knee, pump fake and look for the jumper, if he overplays that then go right at him off the bounce. You need a 6'9-6'10+ guy with handles, a jumper and a lot of core strength to pull that off. Easier said than done but guys like that do exist in the NBA.

--> Scoring against Bogut

This is where I think New Orleans has the best chance to make this is a series. Asik did a good job on the boards last night but he has no real purpose on offense against Golden State and he's too slow to get out and defend on the perimeter either. This might be the biggest hole in the Warriors armor - you can downsize against Bogut without really worrying too much about it.

The most important dynamic in most series is the front-court match-ups. How can you structure your team to attack the other guy's 4 and 5 positions and vice versa. For a long time I've been thinking the key is to have enough size at the 4 position to go at Draymond but maybe the best bet is to go small against at the 5 position against Bogut and flip the dynamic on its head. The Warriors want to beat a bigger team with speed and shooting - it's kind of like how the best way to defeat a pressing team is to press them right back.

- A healthy OKC would have been a great series because they could put Serge at the 5, KD at the 4 and give Golden State a taste of their own medicine in terms of spreading the floor.

- New Orleans can put AD at the 5 but they don't have a great option at the 4 against Golden State. Green is really tough on stretch 4's like Ryan Anderson who can't put the ball on the floor. They might just need to go Davis - Dante Cunningham and hope for the best.

- Memphis would be an archetypal style match-up. I love Z-Bo and Gasol but the tough part about a series like that is Golden State comes in with such an edge efficiency wise. It's hard to beat a team pick-and-rolling into 3's when you are posting up. Their best bet would probably be to turn it into a brawl, ugly up the game as much as possible and hope to take out the Splash Brothers legs by the end of the series. Memphis is like an initiation all great teams have to go through. They have beaten the Spurs, the Clippers and the Thunder in the playoffs and they have lost to all three of these teams too. The audience wants blood.

- It's hard to say whose going to come out of the other side of the West bracket at this point. If it's the Rockets, you would have Bogut vs. Howard and that's really why you have him on the team, in case you run into a guy like Dwight in a 7-game series. He has enough size to where Dwight shouldn't be able to take over. The guy to watch with the Rockets is Terrence Jones, who could be a real break-out star in these playoffs. He has the ability to put up a lot of numbers and he should get a lot more touches due to the absence of Beverley and Motiejunas.

- If it's the Clippers, DeAndre and Bogut would cancel each other out and it would come down to Blake Griffin vs. Draymond. Chris Paul's numbers are pretty much baked into the cake at this point and if we are going to be realistic it certainly looks like he's not going to be the guy pushing you over the top. I'm thinking the Clippers are going to need Blake Griffin to take over and dominate series. If Blake is going to be a guy who wins a Finals MVP in his career, he has to be able to dominate a smaller guy like Draymond in a 7-game series.

- If it's the Spurs, they could do all kinds of crazy stuff. You wouldn't see a lot of Tiago Splitter - they would move him to the back-up 5 and start Diaw like they did against Miami. They could even go small and put Kawhi at the 4 and that would be a fascinating match-up.

In terms of teams going super small against them, they might not see that until the NBA Finals. Cleveland could go small with Thompson at the 5, LeBron at the 4 and Atlanta has Al Horford at the 5 who can take Bogut away from the basket. If things get really wacky, it's Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson vs. Draymond. It's hard to know how any of those match-ups would play out for sure because we haven't seen them before.

This is what Charles Barkley was talking about last night in terms of not being scared of Golden State. When you play at the power forward and center positions, you generally feel like you will win the game if you have the edge upfront. Shaq and Barkley were never too worried about the other team's guards. They figured that it didn't matter what these little guys were doing if they could dominate the action at the front of the rim. Usually, the higher ranked team comes into the match-up with the edge upfront and the lower-seeded team has to hope they get enough D from their big men to survive. You have Shaq on the Lakers and the other team is thinking we have to find some way to slow down this guy.

The Warriors have the big men to shut down other elite big men but they don't have the ability to control the game the other way. People think that center play is over in the NBA but offense from the 5 position has still been a critical part of the last few champions. Tim Duncan gives you that in San Antonio so did Chris Bosh in Miami. The only team that didn't get offense from the 5 position in the last three NBA Finals was Oklahoma City and look what happened to them in that series. Miami downsized and put Shane Battier at the 5 because they knew Kendrick Perkins couldn't do anything against them.

This is where I think they have some similarities with the '07 Mavs. It was the same thing with Dallas - they had Erick Dampier/DeSagana Diop at the 5. Those guys were really important in a potential series against Tim Duncan but they weren't offensive threats the other way. So when they are playing the other team as a favorite, the We Believe Warriors can slide down whoever they want to the 5 position and it doesn't matter. They even went small on Dirk with impunity.

To this day, as a Mavs fan, I still think that '07 team would have won a championship if they had avoided Golden State. They had beaten the Spurs the year before on the road and they probably could have beaten them again at home - Dirk kind of figured out Bruce Bowen's defense in that 2006 WCF. Those Warriors just had a unique set of match-ups that exploited the glass jaw that Mavs team had. We'll see if anyone can pull off the same type of upset against Golden State.

Trey Lyles

At The Cauldron, a look at why the Kentucky PF could be the biggest sleeper in this year's draft.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


If you are reading this article, you have probably heard a lot about the scourge of tanking in the NBA. The national media has been clutching at pearls for some time now, fanning themselves and looking for a fainting couch as they worry about the fate of NBA franchises who aren't trying to maximize their win-loss record in a given season. They want to change an incentive structure that encourages teams to lose games in order to increase their draft position rather than fight the good fight until the very last day of the regular season. The Philadelphia 76ers have become the poster boy for this problem - a franchise run by private equity guys and analytics hounds who have thumbed their noses at the conventional wisdom and dared to build for the future and not the present.

In an effort to stop those dastardly 76ers, a wide variety of proposals have been floated. Nate Silver wants to distribute lottery balls proportionally based off number of losses instead of finish in the standings. Mike Zarren of the Celtics has invented something called "The Wheel".  A lottery reform proposal that would have meant the Top 7 picks would be selected by chance, rather than the Top 3, was voted down by the owners before the start of the season. Either way, change is happening so that we can protect the sanctity of NBA regular season games in March and April.

However, if you take more than an even cursory look at the topic, you might start to ask yourself a few questions.

1) Why does it seem like the vast majority of 76ers fans on internet support the strategy? Who are we protecting from what exactly?

2) If the 76ers are such a disgrace to competitive basketball, how come they have a better record this season than the Wolves and the Knicks?

The first thing any well-meaning reformer has to do is look at the issue not through the lens of a hardcore NBA fan but of a general sports fan in the entertainment marketplace. I'm a Dallas Mavericks fan and I go to just about every game at the AAC but I would go to every game pretty much regardless of what the home team was doing just to see other teams and I would follow the Mavs even if they were 30-35 games below .500. In other words, I'm not the marginal consumer of NBA basketball.

I look at it more through the lens of the Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers. I'm generally aware of what happens in NHL and MLB but I don't follow things all that closely. I'm not a huge fan of either sport and I hardly ever watch or to go games. In that regard, I'm no different than most Dallas sports fans, who are about as shameless a group of front-runners as you will ever see. We don't live in the Midwest or the Northeast. We live in a pleasant part of the country and there are things we can do outside rather than watch bad professional sports teams. The only reason I'm going to pay attention to the Stars or the Rangers is if they are making a playoff push. Once those teams are eliminated from playoff contention, I don't have all that much interest in what they are doing.

If you don't have a very good team, which was the case for the Stars this season and certainly looks like will be the case for the Rangers, the best way to appeal to fan like me is to present hope for the future. The Stars have two young stars - Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin - and a core of talented under-23 defenseman who are still learning the NHL game. The Rangers have one of the best farm systems in MLB. My interest in both franchises is pretty much dependent on what they will do in the future and there really isn't much they can do to get me excited about a fairly mediocre present.

I think you can see how this dynamic relates to rebuilding franchises in the NBA. There aren't many scenarios where a marginal fan in a given city is going to care what happens to a losing team. Not when they can watch NFL or MLB or NHL or NCAA or Netflix or PS4 or their social media feed or really any piece of entertainment in the entire world. To paraphrase George Patton, Americans like to support winners and we don't give a damn about anything else. In that regards, any way of drumming up interest in a bad team that doesn't involve them getting some good young players next season is kind of pointless.

You can decide draft order by a rolling average of 3 seasons or a tournament of the worst teams in basketball or picking all 14 teams in the lottery out of a hat if you want. None of that is going to make an April game between the Lakers and the Knicks any more exciting for the casual basketball fan. The only way to get a marginal fan interested in what the Lakers or the Knicks are doing is the promise of getting one of the best young players in the game in the off-season by means of the draft. In short, the best thing a bad team can do to generate fan support is to begin a rebuilding process. Hope is the only thing they can sell to their fan base.

If you look at Mark Cuban's comments in Zach Lowe's piece on The Wheel, you can see him gently trying to put the whole concept to bed:
“I like the wheel conceptually,” says Cuban. “But I think it makes it harder to sell hope to fans. And hope is a huge connecting point between rebuilding teams and their fans. The wheel turns the NBA into a planning exercise that rewards smart organizations for being smart. I just don’t know if that dovetails with the business we are in.”
The draft is not there to reward the most well-run organizations. The draft is there to depress the salaries of young players and to ensure that fans of bad teams have some reason to come out to the arena next season. The worst thing that can happen to a fan base is to have a terrible season and no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as a reward for all that misery. Maybe The Wheel would prevent a team from a slash-and-burn rebuilding job like the 76ers. How could The Wheel prevent a poorly run team from mortgaging their future or building a veteran-laden team they thought could win but was really this close to having the wheels come off? What happens to these versions of the Lakers and the Knicks if there's no way they can get a Top 10 pick until 2025?

That's the thing about a closed league where every team plays each other. This isn't the NCAA where big programs can schedule small schools and rack up wins regardless of how well their roster is put together. The NBA is a zero-sum game and for every team that wins a game there has to be a team that loses. What that means is if there is going to be a team like the Warriors that wins 65 games there has to be a team at the bottom who loses 65. It doesn't matter if you are trying to win or you are trying to lose. In a given distribution of basketball players, there are going to be a small percentage who disproportionately affect wins and losses and they are going to be concentrated on a select number of teams. There aren't 30 All-NBA caliber players in the NBA and there certainly aren't 30 franchise players.

Remember what happened to the Bucks last season? They were supposed to be the anti-76ers but they ended up having a bunch of injuries and plummeting to the bottom of the league. That's what happened to the Wolves this season - they weren't trying to tank from Day 1, not when they already had a potential cornerstone in Andrew Wiggins and were trying to save face after being forced to give away Kevin Love. A team that's tanking isn't forfeiting a first-round pick to include Thaddeus Young in a three-way trade. Similarly, a team that's tanking isn't going to give a 30+ star like Carmelo Anthony a maximum contract. Yet, somehow, Minnesota and New York have about the same odds of grabbing a No. 1 overall pick as Philadelphia.

In short, any move designed to punish the 76ers is going to end up harming a wide variety of franchises that didn't have their same intentions. Maybe that doesn't matter because we should be punishing all franchises for being incompetently run but that isn't exactly the business model we have for pro sports in the United States. If you want to make every game of every season relevant the only way to do that is relegation and that is never happening, not given the amount of money that each owner of an NBA franchise had to put up to get involved in the league. What happens to the franchise value of the Wolves if they end up playing in the D-League following the David Kahn era? That lets you know all you need to know about the feasibility of relegation in the NBA.

From a broader perspective, it certainly seems like the only reason relegation works in England is because there isn't much competition for the entertainment dollar. It's soccer, soccer, soccer over in the Mother Country and if one soccer team isn't doing well, there's another local soccer team for fans to support. That's not the situation the NBA, MLB and NHL find themselves in the US. Want to destroy interest in baseball, hockey or basketball in the North Texas area? Send the local pro franchise to the minor leagues and don't give area fans the chance to watch the best players in the sport up close. The quickest way for TV ratings for the NBA to suffer in Dallas is for the Mavericks to be bad for a long time. The same goes in 90% of the markets in this country.

The worst thing that can happen to fan interest in the NBA in a given market is not the local team tanking and trying to lose games to improve their position in the draft. Most hardcore fans embrace the tank and want their teams to lose and casual fans aren't going to care regardless. Does it matter to the average Philly sports fan if the 76ers win 30 games as opposed to 20? The only thing matters to them is if Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel can live up to their potential and if the young guy the 76ers draft in 2015 can help them in that process. They have already tuned out for the season and there's precious little the NBA can do to tune them back in. What should worry the NBA is not what's happening in Philly but what's happening in Brooklyn.

The Nets are fighting till the last day of the season to squeeze into the 8 seed with a record way below .500. It's the same situation as the Celtics except the Celtics have a few young players they can build around and a bevy of future picks from the Nets, most of which they gave up in an ill-fated attempt to buy a championship behind aging players in Mikhail Prokhorov's first few years as the owner. As a result, the situation in Brooklyn is GRIM. They can't sell their fan base on rebuilding around quality young players because they gave away all their draft picks and they are going to have a hard time moving out from their malaise in the middle of a really bad Eastern Conference because they don't have many tradeable assets and the best free agents don't tend to sign with bad teams.

The result is a team that's going to flounder about for a long time with no real hope for the future. The future for the Nets is so much worse than the 76ers and that's a significant problem for the NBA. The Nets are operating in the middle of the biggest media market in the world and they are playing in one of the nicest stadiums in the league. They should be a crown jewel franchise. What can they sell their fans over the next 5 years? At least the Knicks will have no worse than a Top 5-Top 6 pick next season. Maybe Karl Towns or Willie Cauley-Stein or D'Angelo Russell or whoever doesn't fix all their problems or even most of them. It's something though. What are the Nets going to sell? The late first-round pick they get as part of their deal with the Hawks? The Nets need that lottery pick a lot more than the Hawks, that's for sure. Atlanta gave away their last lottery pick (Adreian Payne) because they are winning a bunch of games and not trying to bring rookies along.

When you look at it that way, the real problem to competitive balance in the NBA isn't tanking, it's teams who finish in the lottery who don't have lottery picks because they traded them away. So if you are talking about fixing a problem in the league's current structure, that's the direction I would be going in. Forget incentivizing teams not to tank - we should encourage them to do so if that's the best way they can appeal to their fans. What I would like to see is something along the lines of the Ted Stepein rule, which disallows teams from trading consecutive first-round picks. We can call it the Mikhail Prokhorov rule - a team that finishes in the bottom 10 automatically gets to keep their pick for that season. All high lottery picks become automatically protected.

A lot of people would disagree with that on the grounds of we shouldn't be protecting poorly managed teams from themselves, even though that's exactly what we do now with things like the Stepein rule. What these rules are really designed to do is to protect interest in professional basketball in every part of the country by ensuring that the local NBA team has the chance to become competitive in the medium-term future. That should be the goal of any reform effort when it comes to the lottery, not ensuring that every team ends up somewhere in the vicinity of 30 wins or, even worse, allowing the most well-run teams to run even more circles around their competitors. The NBA is not a meritocracy and it's not a free-for-all to ensure that the best run teams stay on top because they are smarter than everyone else. That's what Cuban was trying to tell Zach Lowe - that's not what the business of the NBA actually is.

The media-fueled obsession with tanking and the dangers of teams losing too many games in one season is an exercise in missing the forest through the trees. Not every team can be equally good every year - in a given season, there's only so many teams that can realistically expect to compete for a championship. What the other teams who aren't in that mix have to do is build for the future. The goal shouldn't be a season where every team is locked into trying to finish at 41-41 but a more free-flowing system that gives every franchise the chance to reach at least 50-55 wins over a 5-10 year window. Taking the option of slashing-and-burning out of the toolbox of the rebuilding team does nothing to ensure a more competitive league where interest is high in all 30 markets.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. 
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
It's the same in the NBA - there's a time to win and a there's a time to lose. As long as a draft exists, trying to construct a league where there is no tanking is like trying to create a forest where there are no fires. Every once in awhile, you have to clear out the underbrush and let new things grow. There was no need for the Suns to get a bunch of picks for Steve Nash (and derail the Lakers rebuild) anymore than there was a need for the Celtics to get a bunch of picks for KG and Paul Pierce. Those trades were going to happen regardless because it was time for Boston and Phoenix to start fresh and give younger players opportunities. From there, if a team like the Nets or the Lakers or the Knicks miscalculates as to what stage of the building process they are actually in, you want to make it easier for them to rebuild, not harder.

The problem is not fans in those cities rooting for their teams to lose. The problem is them not rooting at all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2010 NBA Draft

If you really want to know about a draft class, you have to wait a few years. NBA coaches don't want to play rookies a lot of minutes and few are going to give a rookie the benefit of the doubt over an established veteran at his position. It's a two-way street - very few rookies come into the league with NBA-ready games and even fewer walk into situations on good NBA teams where they can get minutes right away. It takes the vast majority of players time to get comfortable with the NBA lifestyle and develop the trust of their coaches and teammates. And with guys coming into the league at 18-19-20 years old, you want to give them some time to develop physically. The prime of their career isn't until their mid 20's and that's when you can really start to draw conclusions about a draft class.

Forget 2014 for now. Let's look at the 2010 draft. We have enough data on those guys to where we can draw some meaningful conclusions. In the interest of time, I'm only going to look at first rounders and second rounders who ended up playing meaningful minutes in the NBA.


1) John Wall (No. 1)
2) Eric Bledsoe (No. 17)
3) Avery Bradley (No. 19)
3) Greivis Vasquez (No. 29)


1) Lance Stephenson (No. 40)
2) Landry Fields (No. 39)

Every SG drafted in the first round in 2010 has already washed out of the league.

Xavier Henry (No. 12)
James Anderson (No. 20)
Elliott Williams (No. 23)
Dominique Jones (No. 25)
Jordan Crawford (No. 27)


1) Paul George (No. 10)
2) Gordon Hayward (No. 9)
3) Quincy Pondexter (No. 27)
4) Al-Farouq Aminu (No. 9)
5) Evan Turner (No. 2)
6) Wesley Johnson (No. 4)
7) Luke Babbitt (No. 16)

Out of the league: Damion James (No. 24), Lazar Hayward (No. 30)


1) Greg Monroe (No. 7)
2) Patrick Patterson (No. 14)
3) Ed Davis (No. 13)
4) Trevor Booker (No. 23)
5) Kevin Seraphin (No. 17)

Out of the league: Craig Brackins (No. 21)


1) DeMarcus Cousins (No. 5)
2) Derrick Favors (No. 3)
3) Hassan Whiteside (No. 33)
4) Ekpe Udoh (No. 6)
5) Cole Aldrich (No. 11)

Out of the league: Larry Sanders (No. 15), Daniel Orton (No. 29)

Things that jump out at me:

1) That 2010 Kentucky team had the No. 1 and 2 PG's, the No. 2 PF and the No. 1 C and 4 of the top 10 or so players in this draft. I love Calipari as a coach but he should have figured out some way to at least get to the Final Four with that team. They just had an overwhelming amount of talent. Looking back on it, Bledsoe was clearly one of the steals of the draft and the reason he fell so far is because he only played one season of college and in that season he barely got to play with the ball in his hands. It would seem ridiculous to draft the 3rd or 4rth option of a team in the Top 10, but that's the way it can go in college basketball. Talent is not equally distributed. That is where scouting is always going to come into play - how do you separate out the value of an individual player from his role on a team?

2) Pretty much the only SG from this draft whose going to have a long career in the league is Lance Stephenson. Five years later, the only other guy left is Landry Fields and he's been living off his one season with Mike D'Antoni in New York for a long time. The margins for error at the SG position are just really, really thin. If you are a sub 6'6 guard in the NBA and you don't run point, you had better be a really good player. Otherwise, there will be 10 other guys looking to take your job. An undrafted guy like Wesley Matthews can become more valuable than a guy with a lot more physical tools because he's a stout defender and a dead-eye three-point shooter. That's what you want from the wing positions and you don't necessarily need to find that skill-set in the lottery. It's only when you start getting into 6'8-6'9-6'10 that the field really starts to thin.

3) I remember Wesley Johnson pretty well because we were about the same age and he played a lot of AAU basketball in the North Texas area, being from Corsicana. I had lost track of him after high school and then all of a sudden he pops up at Syracuse as a 22-year old senior in 2010. I really couldn't believe he was this big-time prospect. The two major red flags should have been his A) age and B) playing at Syracuse. Jim Boeheim (and playing in that zone) makes a lot of guys look better than they really are. Looking back on it, taking Wes Johnson over George and Hayward was a franchise-defining mistake that ended up costing David Kahn his job.

4) Was there any way he could have known to take Hayward and George higher in 2010? Both were younger players on mid-major teams, although Hayward was coming off a run to the national title game. If you were going to make an argument for them at the time, it would have had to have been based off their physical tools. They were both taller and faster than Turner and Johnson and they were both better three-point shooters. Here's a game that I like to play that can help in situations like this - what would happen if two guys changed schools? Put PG with a bunch of dead-eye shooters at Ohio State and he probably could have done pretty well. Is Evan Turner really lifting a team whose 2nd best player was Greg Smith into the Top 25?

5) Quincy Pondexter doesn't have as much talent as Al-Farouq Aminu but he's more helpful to his team because he knows how to shoot the basketball. Ed Davis is boxed in as a backup 4 because he can't stretch the floor. If Ekpe Udoh had a 20-foot jumper, he wouldn't be a 5th big man coming off the bench. Evan Turner hasn't been able to stick anywhere in large part because he can't shoot 3's. Born Ready is really struggling in Charlotte because he's not playing with guys like Paul George and George Hill who can stretch the floor for him, which is exposing his jumper. The way the league is going, if a guy can't shoot the ball, it's just very hard for him to be effective, almost regardless of position.

Steve Kerr

At RealGM, a look at what the Warriors first-year coach learned from Phil Jackson.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Duke vs. Wisconsin

A quick look at the match-ups in what should be a fascinating game.

C: Jahlil Okafor vs. Frank Kaminsky:

1) Does Kaminsky have the strength to push Jahlil off his spots? Duke's offense is built around creating 1-on-1 opportunities for their 275 pound freshman C. Gonzaga and Utah played Duke tough but they had C's who are much bigger than Kaminsky. The problem for Wisconsin is there's really no one else on the bench or in the starting line-up they can have stand behind Jahlil. They are going to need their #1 option to be able to make Jahlil work for his points without getting into foul trouble. If they try to double down, Duke has the shooting to make them pay. This won't be like Kentucky when Wisconsin could pack the paint and dare the Harrison Twins to shoot the ball.

2) How does Jahlil try to defend Kaminsky? Kaminsky is going to try and face up Okafor and go by him on the perimeter or from the mid-post. Can Jahlil slide his feet enough to contest Kaminsky's shot without creating driving lanes to the rim? I imagine he's going to start the game playing off of Kaminsky and daring him to beat him with the off-the-dribble jumper. What you don't want to do as a defender is let him get comfortable in the paint either off the dribble or in the post. Wisconsin wants you to double Kaminsky and I wonder if Duke is going to live with him taking contested jumpers.

3) The foul trouble dilemma: Coach K has a lot more options with this match-up than Bo Ryan. If Kaminsky gets going, does he try to slide Justice Winslow over to guard him and hide Jahlil on Nigel Hayes? That's what Sean Miller tried to do in the Elite Eight when he put Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on Kaminsky. It's definitely a much different look you can throw at him over the course of the game. Even Marshall Plumlee at least has the size and athleticism to run with Kaminsky, if not the overall feel for the game. Conversely, if Hayes or Duje Dukkan ends up on Okafor, Winsconsin is going to have to send double teams.

If I'm Wisconsin, the #1 thing I'm worried about is keeping Kaminsky out of foul trouble and in his offensive rhythm. With two NBA-caliber 7'0's going at it, how the refs call this match-up could go a long way towards determining the outcome. For Jahlil, the main thing is not to commit any silly reaching fouls. You want to make Kaminsky earn his points by scoring over the top of you - you don't want to make his life easier by sending him to the foul line, especially if this is a guy whose going to take a bunch of shots over the course of the game.

PF: Nigel Hayes vs. Justice Winslow

This is the big difference from their first game in November. Winslow was playing as a SF and going up against Sam Dekker while Hayes went up against a more conventional PF in Amile Jefferson. Duke switched line-ups and started playing 4 out, with one of the main motivations to get the match-up of Winslow on a bigger, slower PF. Hayes is a pretty good athlete for 6'7 250 and he has an outside shot at the NBA, but will he able to keep up with Winslow at the three-point line? Just as important, can he use his size to punish Winslow on the block? Kyle Wiltjer was not able to do that in the Elite Eight and he's one of the best PF scorers in the country. If Hayes could force the mismatch and force Duke to play 2 big men at the same time, it would change the complexion of the game.

The match-ups could switch pretty fast in the front-court, with domino effects up and down the line-up. Winslow is the main wild card to watch on the Duke side of things. If he guards Kaminsky, that leaves Okafor on Hayes. If he guards Dekker, that leaves Matt Jones on him. Hayes would try to take Okafor off the dribble and he'd try to punish Jones on the block. What's unique about Wisconsin is their C, PF and SF can all A) post up smaller players and B) face up slower ones on the perimeter and score off the drive or the shot. They might try to play a game of Whac-A-Mole and try to attack Matt Jones since he's the smallest guy on the Duke frontcourt.

When Wisconsin is on D, they might try to put Dekker on Winslow, since Dekker has an edge in quickness and length on Hayes. Matt Jones is a good jump-shooter but Wisconsin isn't really worried about him as a shot-creator so they can hide Hayes on him in order to get Dekker on Winslow. This is two Top 20 picks at combo forward going at it on both sides of the ball. Both guys have been instrumental in their teams run to the Final 4 and if either can get a consistent edge on offense is gong to give their team a huge edge.

SF: Sam Dekker vs. Matt Jones

I think it's going to be important for Dekker to try and utilize his size on Jones because that really forces Duke hands on a number of fronts. Jones is a really good 3-and-D defender so it's not going to be easy by any stretch, but if Dekker can score over the top of him, either off the drive or the post-up, it makes life so much easier for Hayes and potentially forces Jones off the floor altogether since he really doesn't have the size to stay with Hayes or Kaminsky in the post. If Duke becomes a two-post team they are infinitely easier to defend since Jefferson isn't a huge threat on offense. Wisconsin's best chance at winning might be to dictate the types of line-ups Duke puts on the floor by virtue of Dekker's presence at the 3.

That's what happened against Kentucky - they didn't really have a true SF with the size on the perimeter to match up with Dekker. They were forced to go with Trey Lyles, a converted PF, which in turn affected their spacing on the offensive end of the floor, since they couldn't play with three guards. Duke has the SF in Winslow but playing him at that position really affects the rest of their line-up and the dynamic to why they have been so effective over the last few months of the season.

SG: Josh Gasser vs. Quinn Cook

The battle of the under the radar senior guards. Wisconsin is going to need Gasser to score because their guards got lit up in the first game in Madison. Cook and Jones combined to 35 points on 16 shots and they were going wherever they wanted on the court. The best way to defend the Duke guards is to go right back at them on the other end. Both these guys live primarily off other guy's offense but this is a position where Duke should have an edge. If Cook can get around Gasser, it limits the margin of error for everybody else.

PG: Tyus Jones vs. Bronson Koenig/Traevon Jackson

Jones (6'1 185) isn't that big or that fast by NBA standards but he made quick work of the Wisconsin guards earlier this season. The problem with trying to defend Jones if you don't have a physical match-up with him is that he doesn't have any huge holes in his game. If you play off him, he can shoot the 3's. If you press up on him, he can go by you and then hit you with the floater. If you send help, he can dissect the defense. Jones is a lot like Tyler Ennis in the #1 concern with him is his overall size/speed ratio when he gets to the NBA - he's already an NBA-caliber guard in terms of feel for the game and scoring ability. Wisconsin made a ton of hay by leaving the Harrisons open and letting them pound the ball into the ground. That's not going to work against Duke. Their guards are too talented and they play in too much space. The Wisconsin guards are going to have to get out and guard.

If I'm Wisconsin, I'm thinking the best chance to win is Hayes and Dekker. Winslow can only guard one of them at a time - can the other guy take advantage and force Amile Jefferson into the game? Add Kaminsky getting Okafor into foul trouble and your guards controlling tempo and turning it into a half-court game and I think that's the formula for success for Bo Ryan.

The formula is a lot simpler for Duke. Take advantage of Okafor. Take advantage of Tyus Jones. Take advantage of Quinn Cook. I would at least try to see if Matt Jones can hang with Dekker but even if you have to go to Plan B, having Winslow ice out Dekker puts a ton of pressure on the other Wisconsin bigs to create offense. If you can keep the big men bottled up and force the guards to try and create, you should be able to stifle the Wisconsin. Speed the tempo of the game up and let your superior athleticism take advantage, especially on the perimeter.

In terms of the overall match-up, this is another example of a 4-out team going up against a 2-post team. Can Wisconsin use their size to punish Duke playing 4 wings? Or will Duke's superior speed and playmaking ability on the perimeter spread out Wisconsin's size and attack them at the front of the rim? Kentucky couldn't do the same thing because they were a 2-post team that didn't get a ton of shooting from their big men. 4-out teams spread the floor a lot better than 2-post ones so the only real way for the 2-post team to get the advantage is for their 2nd biggest big man to take advantage of the 4-out team's biggest wing defender. If the match-up of the game is Nigel Hayes vs. Justice Winslow, I'm taking Duke.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Stanley Johnson vs. Justice Winslow

At RealGM, a look at how the decisions of guys like Coach K and Sean Miller can affect how we perceive their players.

Good Centers Play Defense

When you are looking at what types of players you want to draft, one of the more instructive things to do is look at the rosters of the playoff teams and see if you can find any patterns. One that jumps out right away is that good teams tend to have C's who play defense. Here's a look at the Top 8 out West:

Golden State - Andrew Bogut
Memphis - Marc Gasol
Houston - Dwight Howard
Portland - Robin Lopez
Los Angeles - DeAndre Jordan
San Antonio - Tim Duncan
Dallas - Tyson Chandler
Oklahoma City - Steven Adams

The smallest guy on this list is Tyson Chandler at 7'1 240 and he's an absolutely exceptional athlete, although he is starting to slow down at the age of 32. Bogut, Gasol, Howard, RoLo, DeAndre, Duncan - these are all massive human beings who move their feet pretty well and know how to cover up the front of the rim.The one guy you could say isn't a high-level defender is Adams, if only because of his age and inexperience. And how does OKC make up for it? Serge Ibaka + Kevin Durant + generic defensive wing + Russell Westbrook in front of him. If you are a good team in the Western Conference, you are either getting good D from your C position (2nd line of defense) or you are getting good D from the other 4 positions (1rst).

Nor do these guys come on the free agent market very often. Duncan, Jordan, Gasol - they are all on the teams that brought them up. For the most part, you either have to draft and develop them or flip your own assets to get one. The Warriors turned Monta Ellis into Bogut while the Blazers lucked into Robin Lopez as part of a three-way deal. The only guys on that list who hit unrestricted free agency were Howard and Chandler. What happened to the teams that let them go? The Lakers and the Knicks are currently vying for the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, where they would presumably draft a C.

Even in the East it's the same story.

Atlanta - Al Horford
Cleveland - Timofey Mozgov
Chicago - Joakim Noah
Toronto - Jonas Valanciunas
Washington - Nene
Milwaukee - John Henson
Miami - Hassan Whiteside
Brooklyn - Brook Lopez

You have to go all the way to the No. 8 seed out East to find a C with a bad defensive reputation.

Now let's take a look at the rosters of the bottom 10 teams in the NBA and tell me if you notice a pattern:

Indiana - Roy Hibbert
Charlotte - Al Jefferson
Detroit - Andre Drummond
Denver - Jusuf Nurkic
Sacramento - DeMarcus Cousins
Orlando - Nik Vucevic
LA Lakers - Jordan Hill
Philly - Nerlens Noel
Minnesota - Nik Pekovic
NY Knicks - Player X

Wouldn't you know it, just about every C with the scouting report "great scorer but struggles to defend the paint" shows up. If you go down the list - Hibbert probably won't be on it next season with Indiana getting Paul George back, Drummond might be able to graduate out as he improves his defensive recognition under Stan Van Gundy, the reason people were excited about the Kings at the start of the season was that DMC had started to get going on defense under Mike Malone.

There are some good C's on that list. It's obvious that a lot of them could be on good teams - it's just that they have to be in a very specific situation to succeed. Pekovic seems like a good example. My suspicion it the reason that team in Minnesota last season didn't make the playoffs is because they didn't have enough rim protection. Switch Pekovic even with Robin Lopez and I bet the Wolves make it. If you don't have a good defensive C, you had better at least have a good defensive PF and Kevin Love is many things but he is not that.

The bottom line is that C is primarily a defensive position. You are the last guy between the opposing player and the rim. You can use whatever analogy you want - the QB of the defense, the goalie on the floor. It's great if your goalie can give you 20-25+ points the other way, but if it's going to compromise what he's going to do on D then it doesn't really have much of an effect on winning games. You can hide poor perimeter defenders on non-shooters or guys who aren't primary options. There's nowhere to hide a bad goalie. The only thing you can do is slide him to PF and play a goalie behind him.

The problem with that, of course, is that putting a guy with a C's size at the PF position AND playing him with another C means there is very little space to score on the other side of the floor. This has been the main problem for Greg Monroe over the course of his career and it is the No. 1 concern for Jahlil Okafor.

It feels like Jahlil has the Carmelo Anthony problem in that he has been such a gifted scorer his entire life he has never needed to play much D. Jahlil has been able to win basketball games by getting buckets since Day 1. The NBA is the first time in his life when that's going to change. If he starts right away, he is going to be tested on D every night. He is going to be tested individually, both in the pick-and-roll and the post, and as a team defender, in terms of the number of different actions he's going to have to call out. It's very hard to be a young C on a good team because you have so much responsibility and so many decisions to make. With Jahlil it will be 10x harder because he will also be having a lot of plays run for him and he'll be going up against the best 1-on-1 defenders he has ever seen in his life. He might need a year or two to really get going on offense and figure out the NBA lifestyle before he even thinks about the other end of the floor.

The question for whatever team that drafts him is how good can this guy be on defense and how quickly can he do it. It takes a long time for C's to develop - it's a very difficult position to learn. Rookie C's don't start very often and when they do they aren't usually on good teams. To complete the sports analogies, I'd say there are a lot of similarities between being the center in the NBA and the catcher in MLB. Most MLB teams don't care about offense from their C for the same reasons that NBA teams don't for theirs.

Let's look at the ages of all those Western Conference C's:

Bogut - 30
Gasol - 30
Howard - 29
RoLo - 27
DeAndre - 26
Duncan - 37
Tyson - 32
Adams - 21

Jahlil is 19. Unless he gets drafted to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it's probably going to take him awhile before he's ready to be a playoff C. The best case scenario is probably the trajectory of DeMarcus Cousins, a teenager who came into the league as a dominant scorer and who looks ready to turn the corner as a complete player at 24. At this point, the Kings just needed to have done a much better job of building around him. Here are the guys they took in the next four lotteries - Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas.

If you have Jahlil developing into a dominant low-post threat at the ages of 20-23, you should be able to draft a pretty good team around him in the meanwhile. You can get a lot of elite two-way shooters to put in front of him and then you could really have something.

I'd say that (barring injury of course) Al Jefferson is probably the floor for what Jahlil becomes. He's just that gifted a scorer. How good his teams become is primarily going to come down to how good he can become at defense. My guess is he will be on one of the best teams in the NBA by the time he gets to 28-29 but that it could take him a long while to get there.

Whoever drafts Jahlil Okafor is going to have to be real patient.