Wednesday, June 25, 2014

And with the 12th Pick, Orlando Takes . . . the Knicks Pick

By Craig Hoberman

Hey there fellow Knicks fans! As you’ve probably now accepted, Melo is probably going to leave New York (boo-hoo). Even worse, the year he is likely to turn his back on the Garden is also the year of the best draft class in a decade. And the Knicks have no pick to speak of in 2014 - because we gave it away for Melo - who will probably be in Chicago laughing it up this time next year. We NY fans can’t catch a break, can we?

What kinds of players are NY really missing out on?  Top prospects Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Dante Exum will definitely fall outside where the Knicks pick would be picking, (#12, currently held by the Orlando as a result of the Melo trade from the Nuggets and then more trades after) but even further down the list are players that could still make an immediate impact on any struggling team. Yes, this year’s draft class is that damn good. Let’s take a look at which directions each of the first 11 teams to select may go, and which players may remain after, that again, the Knicks have no reason to even look at. Oh well. There’s always next year. At least we still have our 2015 and 2017 1st Round Picks!

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

My Pick: Jabari Parker:  I don’t think anybody anticipated Cleveland getting the first selection again this year. After last year’s joke of a #1 overall pick in Anthony Bennett, the Cav’s need to shape up and pick smart . If I were them, I’d go with the best pure basketball player in the draft- Duke’s Jabari Parker. He’s not as freakishly athletic as Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid, but he’s the most skilled and NBA-ready player available. If not for his questionable foot and back injury status and lack of basketball experience, Embiid would make a perfect fit for Cleveland, but after that laughable use of the #1 pick last year, the Cavs need to go with the most reliable choice- and that’s Parker. He often draws comparisons to Melo- imagine if Melo had a point guard like Kyrie Irving in NY. The Kyrie-Parker combo could be LETHAL.

Their Pick: Joel Embiid: The Cav’s have a weak and aging group of big men. Embiid seems like the #1 guy across the board because of his athletic prowess and determination on both ends of the floor. They’ll pick Embiid on draft night to restore order to the front court and install a young, defensive anchor into their game plan, regardless of the many concerns that come with him. Parker is the best basketball player in the draft but doesn’t have the athleticism that the Cavs are most likely looking for. Hopefully Embiid doesn’t bust.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

My Pick: Andrew Wiggins: If the Bucks do miss out on Embiid, Wiggins is the next best choice. He can play the 2 or the 3, is the most athletic player in the draft, and has the potential to be a star on nearly any team. He’ll do great in a lineup that goes something like Brandon Knight, himself, Giannis Anetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders. That combo is bursting with raw athleticism and youth. Wiggins could be the centerpiece that the Bucks need.

Their Pick: Andrew Wiggins: Again, if they miss out on Embiid, the Bucks would be foolish to pass on Wiggins. He is exactly what they need for success- a youthful, exuberant athlete who can serve as the centerpiece on their roster. The Bucks have a lot of raw talent, but they’re missing something- that something is a player like Wiggins.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

My Pick: Jabari Parker: Before the lotto jumbled the expected draft order around, the 76ers were a shoe-in to take Andrew Wiggins. He’s perfect for the team, but it isn’t likely that he’s going to be available by #3. If possible, I’d take Wiggins for the 76ers, but again, he won’t be around, so I’ll go with my favorite player in the draft, Jabari Parker. Skill-wise he could offer immediate relief to a painfully bad 76ers squad, while forming a formidable trio of Michael Carter-Williams, himself and Nerlens Noel. If that’s the case- they could be a title contender not too long from now.

Their Pick: Jabari Parker: If Wiggins is off the board, Parker is a guaranteed pick from the 76ers. Even the Trail Blazers wouldn’t screw this up.

4. Orlando Magic

My Pick: Dante Exum: This is the kid that I dream about the Knicks getting. Exum is the most talented PG in the draft athletically and also boasts tremendous skill. At 6-6, he’s brilliantly sized for the position, performed beautifully at the combine, and though he’s very young, has a ton of room for development. Orlando won’t have a shot at Parker, Wiggins or Embiid- so it’s gotta be the mysterious, Australian powerhouse. The backcourt combo of Oladipo and Exum is almost too good to be true. Pair them with the underrated Vucevic at center- and you have the best Orlando Magic team in a long time.

Their Pick: Dante Exum: Orlando has no chance in hell of getting Embiid, Parker or Wiggins unless they somehow trade up the pick ladder. They’ve been interested in Exum even before he declared for the draft. They’re dreaming of the same backcourt combo that I envision terrorizing the league in just a few years.

5. Utah Jazz

My Pick: Noah Vonleh: He’s not as proven as an athlete or game-changer as fellow power forwards Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon- but if I was Utah, I’d realize the potential Vonleh has and take him in a heart beat. Amazing size, enormous hands and an unbelievable vertical make him a strong contender for freak-of-the-draft this year. I’d love to see him pair up with and learn a thing or two from Derrick Favors. They’d be deadly alongside one another. Randle won’t be as successful in the NBA as he was in college and Aaron Gordon isn’t as NBA ready as Vonleh might be. I’d go with Vonleh.

Their Pick: Aaron Gordon: I would want Vonleh on my Jazz roster, but they’ll go with Gordon. Gordon is probably the better player of the two so far but he’s the youngest guy in the draft,  however scouts believe he has more skill potential than Vonleh overall. They’ll pick him up on draft night.

6. Boston Celtics

My Pick: Marcus Smart: Truth is, Rajon Rondo isn’t going to stay in Boston too much longer. That’s almost a guarantee. He was nearly traded at the deadline this year, and Danny Ainge is no dummy- he’ll use Rondo as leverage to continue the Celtics rebuilding phase. What better way to rebuild than around a strong, hard working point guard like Marcus Smart? Some have questioned his basketball ability, but his dedication to physical defense, offensive skill set and playmaking ability make him highly sought after. His immense strength and perfect size for position are his greatest selling points. If the Celtics could coach him right, he’ll develop into an All-Star level point guard. If I were Ainge I’d move Rondo for a big man and/or future picks, and make the Smart choice- pick up Marcus Smart with the #6 pick.

Their Pick: Marcus Smart or Noah Vonleh: This is a tough one. If the Celtics decide to keep Rondo around, Smart would be a silly choice. Avery Bradley can run the point or serve as a nice companion to Rondo at the 2. If Vonleh is still on the board, they may go with him. His potential is exciting and the Celtics need a young big guy who can crash the glass and handle the ball when needed. He needs to learn the defensive side for sure, but that comes with playing experience. I think the Celtics might take a chance and go with Vonleh if he’s still on the board by pick #6. But if Ainge is planning to ship Rondo off, Smart is the obvious pick.

7. Los Angeles Lakers

My Pick: Noah Vonleh: For the first time in many years, the Lakers flat-out suck. They’re just awful. Dwight Howard did nothing for them and they’ll be lucky to get five more solid minutes out of Steve Nash- not to mention Kobe is two years away from retirement. They have a laughably weak line-up at this time. Vonleh could be a great piece to build around. He could add youth and energy the interior game that they could start to develop. They’ll probably end up going with Julius Randle, who is a more proven scrapper, but I’d go with Vonleh because he has more potential for success in the NBA. If each team went with the pick I chose for them, Vonleh wouldn’t be around this late. But I don’t think most NBA teams have as much confidence in him as I have. In any case, the Lakers MUST be careful with their pick this year. If they tank again next season, the abhorrent Lakers fanbase won’t be able to handle it.

Their Pick: Julius Randle: Randle is a more proven player than Vonleh. At one point this year, he was projected #1 overall. If Randle is still on the board, L.A. would be foolish not to grab him, even though I feel Vonleh may be the next franchise player that could prosper on their team. Many believe L.A. will go with Smart- to be their next franchise point- but they might see Randle as a more reliable pick.

8. Sacramento Kings

My Pick: Julius Randle: I would LOVE to see Randle on the Kings. I think their current roster has a boatload of potential- All-Star forward Rudy Gay, lights-out shooter and athlete Ben McLemore, post-up monster Demarcus Cousins and specialty point guard Isaiah Thomas. Inject Randle into that line up right beside Cousins- and that’s a team to watch out for. Randle would complete the interior fire storm already started by Cousins. He’d be a great fit in Sacramento.

Their Pick: Marcus Smart: I like Isaiah Thomas at point for the Kings- but I’m not sure their staff likes him very much. He hasn’t really produced yet, and he’s ridiculously undersized, so they might replace him with Smart. I think Randle would be a better fit for the team, but Sacramento may view Smart as an opportunity to improve offensive intensity and consistency. They’d probably rather have him run the floor than poor Isaiah Thomas. If Smart is still on the board at #8, the Kings will take him.

9. Charlotte Hornets

My Pick: Doug McDermott: Yes- the Hornets are back! Nostalgia, anyone? The former Bobcats have improved tremendously this season- they made the playoffs! Just a few years ago they had a seven win season- the worst in NBA history. Charlotte has athleticism and some excellent defenders, now they need a guy who can score from anywhere- and that’s McDermott. McDermott is one of the best college basketball players of all time, and while he may not continue his dominance into the NBA, his ability to score at will makes him a valuable player in this draft. He plays gracefully and rarely makes a costly mistake. Charlotte already has some fantastic athleticism in Kemba Walker and do-everything-man Michael Kidd-Gilchrist- so adding McDermott could give them the edge they need to compete.

Their Pick: Doug McDermott: I don’t see the former Bobs going in any other direction. McDermott can score, he’s a proven player (one of the most experienced in the draft) and that’s exactly the kind of guy that Charlotte is missing.

10. Philadelphia 76ers

My Pick: Gary Harris: Harris is one of the best pure shooters in the draft. He would be a beautiful fit in the rest of the young 76ers lineup. He doesn’t have the size or athleticism to dominate other players,  but again, that shooting ability is hard to look over. He’s an offensive powerhouse. The 76ers will be an elite squad in a few years.

Their Pick: Gary Harris: Philly has no reason to even look at anybody else. If they nab Wiggins or Parker, either of those players would match beautifully with Noel and Carter-Williams. Harris isn’t an elite player, but he’s an excellent shooter and an active defender, and would be a great second or third scoring option on this new 76ers team.

11. Denver Nuggets

My Pick: Rodney Hood: I love this kid. He’s a marvelous shooter, doesn’t turn the ball over and can make or create plays. He’d develop well on the Nuggets.

Their Pick: Adreian Payne: He’s big, he can shoot, and is an animal at the rim- but I don’t think he has the consistency or playmaking skills that Rodney Hood could offer. Regardless, he’s an excellent player with room for growth, and the Nuggets will pick him up in June.

And here is where the Knicks would be picking. There are a ton of great players left- James Young, Dario Saric, P.J. Hairston, Tyler Ennis, Shabazz Napier and Nik Stauskas. And there’s even a chance one of those top ten guys could fall to where the Knicks pick would be. But unfortunately for us dedicated NY Knicks fans, we won’t have a chance at any of these young talents, so what’s the point in even talking about them? It’s fun to dream.

I’m not sure D Fish or even Phil Jackson can save the Knicks from yet another disastrous season. 

 (Guest writer Craig Hoberman is a student and SUNY-Cortland and Social Media consultant, dedicated Knicks fan and patriot.  You can follow Craig on Twitter at @MyTownTutorsNY)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Yankee Fans Find Their “Hiro”

Masahiro Tanaka demands your full attention.  

I don’t care if you’re glued to the TV watching the Rangers march through the playoffs.  It doesn’t matter what golf tournament is on (Tiger isn’t playing yet anyway).  Your basketball season has been over for months if you’re a Knick fan (and for weeks if you’re a Net fan, or anyone else not Miami and San Antonio).   The World Cup hasn’t started yet and football is still in hibernation. 

Masahiro Tanaka wants you to watch baseball now.
I remember feeling like this before.  In 1978, Yankee fans watched as their defending champs stumbled through the beginning of the season with the exception of every fifth day.  That was when Ron Guidry took the mound and created a dominant pitching performance that compelled you to watch.   He didn’t lose a game until July that year (he ended up losing three); finished what he started 16 times with nine shut outs and an absurd 1.74 ERA.   Lots of luck finding a starter that can begin 16 games without a trip to the DL now.

(Post Break:  Beth Aaron’s Sweet Sixteen, held on June 17, 1978 coincided with a Guidry start against the Angels.  At the party, all the Yankee fans were anxiously kept in the dark (in those pre-internet days) until we got home and found out that Guidry struck out 18 batters.  That Saturday night was the first time Yankee Stadium fans started clapping when a batter had two strikes.   I was not happy I missed that game.)

Tanaka, has taken baseball by storm this year, going 10-1 with an AL leading 2.02 ERA and making Yankee fans remember what it’s like to watch a pitcher at the top of his game.   In this era of relief specialization, Tanaka has shunned the bullpen, twice completing games and going as deep into the game as Yankee Manager Joe Girardi’s binder will let him.   He’s averaging over seven innings an appearance and averages over a strikeout and inning.   But it’s his aura, like Guidry in ’78 that compels you to tune in.   Something special can happen any time he’s on the mound and you don’t want to miss a thing.   Yankee fans can only hope for a 1978 redux (maybe without the 14 ½ game comeback).  

At a time when the Yankees are sliding their way back to pre-1995 mediocrity, Tanaka could be the bridge between the Jeter Era and whatever comes next.  But for now, we’ll just watch. 

Just Sayin’
Who is making Rangers D Dan Girardi’s sticks – ACME Toothpick Company?
If I’m Derek Fisher, I’m pumping up that Carmelo-to-Miami talk so Melo opts out.  There’s no room for a 30 year-old ball hog in the triangle.

Jon Beason, we hardly knew ye . . . 

Fantasy Football Update:  I’m trying to get over the fact that I’m still watching hockey and I’ve already received my pre-season projections email.   I can’t be behind in preparing already – can I?

World Cup Update: Fearless prediction is that someone not ranked in the top five will win this year, so farewell Spain, Germany, Brazil, Portugal and Argentina – hello Italy?  Belgium?