Those people who know me personally understand that the NBA Draft is one of my absolute favorite moments of the entire calendar year. While the Draft is still about two and a half months away, the NCAA Tournament got me thinking about the different players who have helped or hurt their status in terms of the NBA Draft. Along with profiles of these players and detailed descriptions of their statistical strengths and weakness, I also include their current projection for the 2009 and/or the 2010 draft.
Boot Up: Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, Kansas – It is a very logical argument as to why these two youngsters are suddenly shooting up draft boards: in 2008 Kansas won the national championship, then six players were drafted, and these two were entrusted with the reign of the program under Coach Bill Self. Kansas won the Big 12 regular season title again this season, and advanced to the Sweet 16 where they lost to the eventual Final 4 representative in Michigan State. Aldrich became the first person since Shaquille O’Neal to put up a triple double with blocks in an NCAA Tournament game, while Collins drew dozens of comparisons to former Chicago native point guard Tim Hardaway. Both will probably wait one more year until they jump to the pros, but at the rate they are progressing, will be guaranteed locks for the lottery when things are all said and done: Aldrich (Top 10 pick in 2010) and Collins (Mid-to-late first rounder in 2010.)
Boot Up: Toney Douglas, Florida State – One of the best players you have never heard of in the country, as Douglas, a senior, won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award and was a first-team all conference selection. He was the point guard for the improved Seminoles in 2008-2009, but would be under-skilled point guard in the NBA, and at 6-5 could be an ideal shooting guard and perimeter defender in the mold of Delonte West for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Led the ACC in scoring this year as well at 21.46 points per game, and is an above average three-pointer shooter at 37.2% over the last two seasons. The scouts might not be too high on him, but I have a good feeling about his future success in the pros, and think that he could be a real difference maker on a team like Utah, New Orleans or Phoenix if they give him a chance in the second round: Second round to undrafted in 2009.
Boot Up: Here comes Joe Smith – After weeks upon weeks of rumors, it appears that forward Joe Smith is finally coming to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 6-foot-10 former first round pick out of the University of Maryland signed with the Cavaliers Wednesday morning, and will be able to play in the big game in Boston on Friday night. While many different blogs and reporters across the Northeast Ohio area have praised the return of Smith, a steady 33-year-old veteran presence in the locker room, I warn them of thinking too much about the fourteen-year NBA pro.
Sure, the Cavaliers have had problems defending the paint against teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat this season, but they are still #7 in the NBA in points in the paint allowed per game. The Cavaliers are only #23 in the league in points scored in the paint per game, according to TeamRankings.com, but that sort of happens when you have two top perimeter guards starting every single game. An odd fact, however, is that the Cavaliers have the #13 best points in the paint differential at home, while they are #20 on the road. This relates to an article I wrote recently on how LeBron James tends to be more productive at home, as he usually looks to drive it to the basket more often than not.
Joe Smith will continue to be a decent player, as he has averaged at least 17.36 points and 9.65 rebounds per 48 minutes in every single season of his career. Last season, in which he spent his final 27 regular season games with the Cavaliers, was one of his finest of his career on a per-minute basis. He averaged 21.64 points and 11.15 rebounds per 48 minutes, and advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career. He is not by any means a legitimate starting post presence for one of the best teams in the NBA, but he is a very good fit for the team for the remainder of this season. I will certainly cheer for him to do well in Cleveland, but I do not think this automatically makes us the favorites, nor does it make us a very different ball club.
Boot Up: The Phenomenon of Lamar Odom – I am sorry to bring up this sore subject fellow Cleveland fans, but I was actually planning on writing an article about the 30-year-old Odom days and even weeks before he blew up for 28-points and 17-rebounds in the Lakers victory in Cleveland on Sunday. The main reason for this potential article was that I saw a mention on ESPN recently, that Odom is a free agent and it seems like the Los Angeles Lakers are already thinking about moving on without him. Here are the exact words from Chad Ford:
“Odom will be one of the most coveted free agents on the open market. Phil Jackson likes him, but with Kobe, Bynum and Pau Gasol on the roster, the Lakers don’t need him and might explore trades for him in the coming months. Odom’s penchant for disappearing in big moments (see: 2008 NBA Finals) hasn’t helped his rep in L.A. But he is a great team guy, he can rebound the ball, he can initiate the offense and he doesn’t need the ball to be effective. If he doesn’t stick in L.A., there will be a line of teams waiting to snatch him up.”
Sure, this article is from September and there have been several more ESPN articles about the free agent class of 2009 since that date, it is interesting to ponder the possibilities. Now with Andrew Bynum theoretically out for the rest of the regular season, it seems like the Lakers will probably hold on to Odom for at least the rest of this year, yet Bynum is a big reason why he might not be back next year. In this past off-season, Andrew Bynum signed a massive contract extension with the team that just comes into effect next season. This means that while the Lakers do indeed have over $17 million in expiring contracts, they will still be well over the expected salary cap of about $61 million. Thus the only logical way for the Lakers to re-sign Odom, even though he is their own free agent, is to give him their mid-level-exception, something I would expect Odom to pass down.
Now on to the exact reasons why this article caught my eye, and why, especially after Sunday’s performance, I believe Lamar Odom could still be an All-Star in the NBA. As evidenced on Sunday, Lamar Odom is one of the best scoring threats next to the basket in the NBA. Below this article, I point out how LeBron James shot about 65% from the basket from 2004-2008, and Lamar Odom was pretty close to him last season shooting about 62.2% at that spot on the court. This year his paint numbers down a little bit because of the health of Andrew Bynum (up until recently that is). In addition, in Odom’s career he has never averaged less than 8.46 rebounds and 17.57 points per 48 minutes. In the past five years in Los Angeles, he has averaged about 18.54 points, 5.39 assists, 12.31 rebounds and an efficiency shooting percentage of 1.039 despite never being the premier scoring option on the court behind Bryant, Gasol and recently Bynum.
There have been many rumors over the last week or so about the Cleveland Cavaliers possibly acquiring an extra forward for Wally Szczerbiak and his expiring contract. One name that has come up in the internet discussions is Los Angeles Clippers F/C Marcus Camby, the winner of the 2006-2007 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. Camby, who is 35 years old, has a much smaller salary cap burden than other names mentioned such as Antawn Jamison or Brad Miller, as he is making $8 million this year, and then $7.65 million in the final year of his contract next season. In an effort to see what the impact of this addition would mean to the Cavaliers, I took a little visit to the Web site http://www.82games.com.
On this website, I saw as not much of a surprise, that LeBron James has gradually been playing substantially more minutes at the PF position over the last three seasons. This is not a surprise, because when you think about the personnel changes in the last three seasons, the Cavaliers have needed LeBron and his massive size in the post more often while the front office has surrounded him with under sized sharp shooters. This season, LeBron is playing 22% of his 75% of the Cavaliers minutes on the court at the 4 according to this Web site, but what I was very surprised to see out of this limited sample size, is that he is actually producing more efficiently at that position.
Here is a quick summary of his net efficiency marks per 48 minutes at the two different positions over the last three seasons:
Boot Up: Why the Cleveland Cavaliers are #1 – The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the defending NBA champions from Boston on Friday night at the Quicken Loans Arena by the convincing final score of 98-83. The game was never really that close, as the Celtics never had the lead, and the Cavaliers were up by 11 at the end of the first quarter. LeBron James had arguably the most impressive all-around performance of his career, posting 38 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals, and three blocks, shooting 9-9 from the free throw line, all while holding Paul Pierce to only 11 points on 4-15 shooting from the field. In fact, however, those numbers from Pierce are somewhat deceiving as Pierce scored 4 points in a matter of 2:37 to start the fourth quarter against Wally Szczerbiak while LeBron James sat on the bench. LeBron was as good as he has ever been last night, and he could do seemingly anything he wanted on both sides of the ball. The loss also was the seventh in nine games for the struggling Celtics, who fell to 29-9 and behind both the Cavaliers and the rising Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference standings.
Away from last night’s phenomenal performance, I am here to investigate why exactly the Cavaliers have taken such a jump this season from last year’s mediocre regular season. Of course, the Cavaliers had a lot of chemistry, injury and all-around issues last year when they stumbled to a 45-37 finish and the #4 seed in the East. This past off-season, everyone remained healthy and the Cavaliers added Maurice Williams in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks, along with rookie forward J.J. Hickson out of North Carolina State. Still, I was not too optimistic on the Cavaliers in 2008-2009 (exhibit A and exhibit B), and neither were the supposed experts over at ESPN. Currently however, the Cavaliers are 29-6, and on pace for somewhere around 63-68 wins by the end of the season (John Hollinger of ESPN predicts 64). Why are the Cavaliers on pace for such a historic season? The answer may surprise you, as it is not just the addition of guard Mo Williams.
Boot Up: Cleveland Indians recent play – The Cleveland Indians recent ten-game winning streak is a certain sign that things are sure to improve n 2009 for this very young team. Despite this past weekend’s three-game sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners, the Indians have played above average baseball throughout the second half of the season. When the Indians traded C.C. Sabathia just after their game on Sunday, July 6th, they had just lost to the Minnesota Twins and fallen to a record of 37-51 in the days before the All-Star break. Since that time, and despite the fact C.C. Sabathia may be a possible Cy Young candidate in the National League (which could include a no-hitter, pending an MLB report on whether or not a lousy infield single is ruled an error from Saturday’s game) the Indians have been 29-19. The Milwaukee Brewers, on the other hand, were 49-39 before the trade, and have been 31-18 since. This shows that since losing their best pitcher, the Indians have played right on track with one of the best teams in the National League: a team that currently has a 94.6% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus.
Boot Up: 2008 Beijing Olympics - The Beijing Summer Olympics start up on August 8th, and the sports media in the United States will be focused on the USA basketball team, looking to win the gold after a disappointing bronze finish in 2004. This year’s USA team is much more organized, experienced, and talented than the team that played in Greece in 2004, and is the clear-cut favorites as of right now. Four teams from each group will advance from the first round to the knockout quarterfinals. Here are the teams, with my picks to make the quarterfinals underlined.
A1 Argentina - One of the deepest teams in the tournament, led by NBA players Manu Ginobili (San Antonio), Luis Scola (Houston), Fabricio Oberto (San Antonio), Andres Nocioni (Chicago), and former NBA player Carlos Delfino.
Eastern Conference – Southeast Division
Orlando (52-30, #3 seed and lost in five games in the Conference Semifinals)
The #22 selection in the draft (Courtney Lee out of Western Kentucky)
Key contributors for the team in 2008-2009 are projected to be PG Jameer Nelson, SF Hedo Turkoglu, PF Rashard Lewis, and C Dwight Howard. Key unrestricted free agents include PG Carlos Arroyo, SG Keith Bogans, PG Keyon Dooling, SG Maurice Evans, C Adonal Foyle, and PF Pat Garrity while C James Augustine is a restricted free agent and C Marcin Gortat has limited salary protection.
Report Card: Issue number one for the Orlando Magic this off-season is shoring up their backcourt. Once they do that, and hopefully resign players such as Keith Bogans, Keyon Dooling and Maurice Evans, the Magic will be just as good as they were this past season. That consistent approach, along with a freak of nature known as Dwight Howard at center, should help then win the division yet again.
Projection: #1 in Southeast Division, #3 in East, between 45-49 wins.
This is part one in a series of four parts recapping all of the transactions made in the NBA on Draft Day 2008, and making very early projections for the upcoming 2008-2009 season. Coming on Friday will be the Southeast Division along with the completion of the Eastern Conference.
Eastern Conference – Atlantic Division
Boston (66-16, NBA Champions)
The #30 selection in the draft (J.R. Giddens out of New Mexico)
The #60 selection in the draft (Semih Erden out of Turkey)
Traded away the #47 selection in Bill Walker out of Kansas State to the Washington Wizards for cash considerations
Key contributors on the team in 2008-2009 are projected to be PG Rajon Rondo, SG Ray Allen, SF Paul Pierce, PF Kevin Garnett, and C Kendrick Perkins. Key unrestricted free agents include PF/C P.J. Brown, PG Sam Cassell, PG Eddie House, C Scot Pollard, and SF James Posey, while SG Tony Allen will be a restricted free agent, and PF Leon Powe has limited salary protection.
Report Card: Still a great team as long as Allen, Pierce and Garnett are healthy. They really did not need to prove anything in the draft, and picked based on the best available player. As long as they are able to fill in the gaps this off-season by resigning a few guys like Posey and Howe, they will not miss a beat. No way they are not a top two seed in the Eastern Conference next season, 55+ wins is a given. Projection: #1 in Atlantic, #1 in East, between 55-59 wins.