Archive for June, 2012

The 2012 NBA Draft is almost upon us. The panelists at Escobar have made their picks, and submitting to foolhardy abandon, justified them with a thaumaturgist’s range of debatable currency. Without further ado, here’s our best guess at how it shakes out.

Click on a pick to see why we think it should be made. Or, in the alternative, why the team will pick the wrong guy.

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This panel has already outlined the precarious state of the Golden State Warriors heading into 2012-2013. But despite this panelist’s belief (see pick 7) that Golden State needs to do something drastic to change the franchise’s direction, the last pick of the First Round is probably not the place to initiate significant change. In the last ten years there have been two quality NBA players taken with the last pick in the First Round. The Dallas Mavericks selected Josh Howard in 2003 and the New York Knicks selected current Golden State forward David Lee in 2005. In between and around those two selections the last pick has yielded zero recognizable NBA talent. For fun try to remember one compelling NBA basketball moment from any of the following names: Dan Dickau, David Harrison, Joel Freeland, Petteri Kopponen, JR Giddens, Christian Eyenga (you might be able to think of one or two from him if you are a serious Cleveland or Los Angeles Lakers fan), Lazar Hayward, and Jimmy Butler (the panel still holds out hope that Butler will get a chance in Chicago).

Golden State should most definitely take a best player available strategy into selecting at 30. If the draft goes as this mock has the best player available would be Tony Wroten Jr., PG/SG out of the University of Washington. Wroten Jr. has a bad jump shot and, if you believe some reports, a bad attitude. If he only had a reputation for one of those two negatives he would probably be well off the board by the time Golden State picked at 30. That’s because, despite the aforementioned drawbacks, Wroten Jr. has point guard capabilities, solid athleticism, and great court vision all at 6’6″ and 203 lbs. If he can get his shot to a respectable level and curb the attitude issues there is serious potential here. Further, although this panelist would suggest best player available no matter what at pick 30, Wroten Jr. is actually a solid fit for Golden State. He might be able to serve as the primary backup to Steph Curry and also allow Curry to slide over to the shooting guard position from time to time. Wroten Jr.’s height and solid frame would allow him to take on the task of defending the opposing team’s shooting guard in such a scenario. Overall, grabbing Wroten Jr. at 30 would be a solid coup for a struggling Golden State team. This panelist is willing to wager Wroten Jr. will perform better than some of the #30’s that have come before him. (A. MacMullan)

The Chicago Bulls are in for a strange season in 2012-2013. As all NBA followers are aware, star point guard Derrick Rose faces 8-12 months of recovery after tearing his ACL against the Philadelphia 76ers in an April 28th 1st Round Playoff game. It is nothing new for writers, fans, even General Managers and coaches to be forced to wait on baited breath for the resolution of a season-long will he/won’t he situation involving a star player. Its just that usually these situations, like Dwight Howard in Orlando, Carmelo Anthony in Denver, and Deron Williams in Utah, involve re-signing and are of the star player’s design. Fortunately or unfortunately for Chicago, Rose will have had no say in the 2012-2013 buzz created by the mystery surrounding his fate. His will he/won’t he strictly pertains to injury recovery. But while everyone scours the injury report and attends the press conferences waiting for an update on Rose’s status, the rest of the Chicago Bulls will have to play out the season. While Chicago was 18-9 without Rose in the regular season this past year, this panelist will not waste time constructing and deconstructing an argument that the team will be fine without Rose. Suffice it to say his absence will be felt.

Many will urge Chicago to tailor their offseason moves, both draft and free-agency related, to their new Rose-less reality. This panelist believes that Rose’s absence should not dominate Chicago’s offseason strategy and action. While Rose certainly is gone for now, Chicago should remember that he is 23 years old (meaning he will recover and be in Chicago for a long time), that they have a solid roster without him (probably not one capable of duplicating 18-9 but still solid), and the Eastern Conference is not spectacular from top to bottom. A seven seed and a first round matchup with a team like Indiana is not a stretch for a Rose-less Chicago. Further, with reports indicating Rose is slightly ahead of schedule on his rehab, it is likely he will be back for the homestretch of the regular season as well as the playoffs. And at that point all bets would be off for just about any playoff matchup Chicago might face.  While this may be a bit optimistic the ultimate message remains the same no matter the specific date of Rose’s return: Chicago should draft as if Rose were on the roster and ready to play.

If Chicago was to do so the best strategy for a contender caliber team with some of its rotation set for free agency would be to draft the best player available, who can contribute a bit right away, at any position that is not completely covered by current roster pieces. For Chicago this means anything other than a point guard would be fair game. With backup PF/C Omer Asik hitting free agency and likely commanding more than cap-strapped and luxury tax near Chicago should pay for a backup big, Kyle O’Quinn, 6’10” 240 lbs., from Norfolk State would be a good choice. O’Quinn is a late bloomer who was only offered one scholarship-to Norfolk State-out of high school. He consistently improved throughout his four year college career and helped lead Norfolk to a 1st round tournament upset over 2nd seeded Missouri in 2012. O’Quinn, despite only being 6’10” has a 7’5″ wingspan that should help his rebounding and shot blocking translate to the next level.

If O’Quinn, who is physically mature and prepared for the NBA game, is able to step right into Chicago’s rotation the team could let Asik walk without skipping a beat. Taking a shooting guard like Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins here would not be a poor decision but this panelist believes that last year’s First Round pick, Jimmy Butler, showed effort and improvement this past season and should not be crowded out of the wing rotation by another first round selection. (A. MacMullan)

Let’s get this out of the way.  The Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.  They were favored by many, they were widely viewed as the protagonists in the national narrative, and they got their asses handed to them in game five.  Game Five also happened to be the clincher for the Heat, and there were unscientific signs that the young core of the Thunder weren’t prepared for the increased level of intensity that comes with being one of the last two teams remaining.  James Harden lost his confidence, role players couldn’t connect in key moments, and although Durant and Westbrook played well, they couldn’t win the matchup.  Whether it was mistakes in key moments (fouling late in the shot clock in game 4 for Westbrook), being forced into more passive play (Durant due to foul trouble), or whether it was missing game-winning shots with an opponent arm-checking you (egregious foul on Durant by LeBron, referenced in the previous post), the Thunder didn’t quite have enough this year.

Harden and Ibaka may command too much money in free agency to be retained.  It may be naiveté, but this panelist thinks that both players will work with GM Sam Presti to make sure that the team sticks together.  The below-average performance in the finals by both of these players may even give the team a bit of relief, as Harden was nearing the notoriety level required for a maximum deal.  Evidenced many times over, it is very, very difficult to win the NBA championship.  Growing pains, rites of passage, earning their lumps.  Bring on all of your tired clichés, they apply!

Draymond Green won’t necessarily get them there.  But picking up a role-player with real intangibles is just what they need to do. And it isn’t just intangibles.  Green is a good rebounder, provides infinite hustle, and passes with intelligence, alacrity and even some finesse.  With scorers on the floor around him, Green is dangerous.  He keeps defenses honest enough to move up on him and then hits his teammates in open spots.  He’d be a perfect complement to each of Oklahoma City’s stars, and the Thunder, if they want an immediate contributor, could do a lot worse than to draft Green.  If Presti goes with someone else, well, it was the right choice too.  Can’t really argue with his track record at this juncture.

Durant was candid about breaking down after losing to the Heat in game 5.  Whereas LeBron would have been mocked mercilessly for weeping after a loss, Durant gets the benefit of the doubt, and folks everywhere are instead sympathetic (as they should be).  You could see the heartbreak in his eyes even as the game wound down in the fourth quarter.  And while Dwyane Wade went full-on douche (look out for an Escobar article down the road on this point) atop the scorer’s table, Durant was the epitome of high character, on the verge of tears, taking the time to quietly, respectfully congratulate his opponents before finding his family in the tunnel.  This panelist is perversely happy that the Heat won the championship this year, so that he may go back to criticizing LeBron for deep-seated antisocial hubris.  It was becoming difficult to do so with so many critics on the bandwagon.  Now that the critics have been allayed, this panelist looks forward to seeing the Thunder back in the Finals next year against the Heat, and this time seeing them fulfill their potential. (C. Dirks)

The Miami Heat are NBA Champions. It was probably inevitable. As much as so many hoped the LBJ-Wade-Bosh experiment would find a way to fail, the grand and spectacular has always eventually found a way to prevail in the NBA–the major American professional sports league that most frequently straddles the line between “show” and “competition”. And the league hasn’t seen anything as grand and spectacular as the Miami 3 union since Jordan’s Bulls owned the 90’s. But, it wasn’t just the Miami 3 that came up big in the Finals, the role players also played great. As much as it pains this panelist to scour through the Finals box scores to find proof of the role the non-star Miamians played, it is a necessary part of this job (See below-Figure A). The point of all of this is to make the point that, while stars are an essential piece of the championship puzzle, the role players are the ones that “grind out that last little bit”, and are the difference between “coming up just short” and “accomplishing the ultimate goal”.

Wait, this panelist actually doesn’t believe that at all. In THIS instance Miami’s role players did actually come up pretty big. They did actually play a big role in Miami’s finals victory. But a team with this kind of star power in a league that values star power above all else had several viable paths to Finals victory. If you don’t agree, see below (Figure B) for some persuasive data. That’s right, Miami beat a few pretty impressive playoff opponents in these very playoffs without that contribution.

The point of all of this for draft purposes, is to illustrate the fact that Miami’s draft pick simply means less than it does to other teams because of how much clean up Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and (to a lesser extent) Chris Bosh do. Yes, an absolutely dreadful draft selection by Miami could hurt the team a bit, and yes, they should try to at least draft a need position to help with depth. But ultimately whoever they draft just needs to be proficient. The truth is there are probably enough proficient, minimum salaried veterans and 2nd round talents around to for the massive Miami show to keeping humming along on time and on target for a few more years. It would be a bonus if the player Miami drafts can be better than proficient at one thing–lets say shot blocking or rebounding, but if not it won’t be a huge deal.

Fab Melo is a warm body, large, probably capable of rebounding and shot blocking at an NBA-level. His offensive game does not exist much beyond put backs and dunks. He is also supposedly a bit immature. If Miami has a position of need that could actually hurt them in a playoff series, it is probably backup center. If Bosh ever gets in foul trouble it would be beneficial to Miami to have someone who could perform in his absence beyond Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf (who has an opt out but might stick around).

Melo is inexperienced, but has potential. He would likely benefit from the ego boost produced by his scoring off of James & Wade dump offs or the easy tip ins that follow the few missed James & Wade attempts that aren’t immediately converted into trips to the foul line. Melo is certainly solid value at a position of relative need for the now defending champions. But Miami fans shouldn’t stress too much over this pick. They should take comfort in the fact that their beloved Miami Heat have the brightest stars in a league where star treatment can produce things like this, and this, and especially this:

Figure A:

15+ Point Performances by Miami Role Players in Finals Victories

Game 2: Shane Battier (17 pts.)

Game 3: None

Game 4: Mario Chalmers (25 pts.)

Game 5: Mike Miller (23 pts.)

Figure B:

15+ Point Performances by Miami Role Players in Pre-Finals Playoff Series

New York Series:

Game 1: None

Game 2: None

Game 3: Mario Chalmers (19)

Game 5: None

Indiana Series:

Game 1: None

Game 4: None

Game 5: None

Game 6: Mario Chalmers (15)

Boston Series:

Game 1: None

Game 2: Mario Chalmers (22)

Game 6: None

Game 7: None

Beginning one selection prior to this one, with Memphis at pick #25, this panel has reached the point in the draft where teams should probably at least somewhat consider need and near-immediate championship contention when selecting. This process is not, however, uniformed across all realistic contenders. For years San Antonio has made a killing by picking and stashing high quality European players and mature, athletic American college wings. For San Antonio this process made and still makes a whole lot of sense. Generally up against the salary cap, always in contention, and with the point guard and post-scoring forward positions locked down, San Antonio has been cunning in grabbing Europeans who someone else could pay to develop, and ready-to-play American wings who work well off of the skill sets of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. In Miami and Boston, where nearly the entirety of the salary cap has been eaten up by the “good” and the “evil” Big Threes, the draft picks, when they have been kept, have generally been entirely need based, filling out gaping positional holes (t.w.s.s.) that the top heavy salary distribution has left vulnerable. In Los Angeles 1st Round Draft picks have generally been something to avoid or package for a veteran to avoid greater luxury tax payments and bring in seasoned players that Kobe Bryant and (until recently) Phil Jackson couldn’t psychologically deconstruct/destroy.
Even after a highly successful season and a hard fought 4-2 Eastern Conference Semi-Final playoff series loss to eventual champion Miami Heat, few outside of Indianapolis would consider this collection of Indiana Pacers to be on par with the teams mentioned in the previous paragraph. And yet, few who watched Indiana grow together this regular season and legitimately test Miami in the playoffs would place them firmly into the “surefire playoff but clearly not contender” category that teams like Atlanta, Orlando, and Philadelphia fall into. Indiana probably also belongs in a separate category from larger market, superstar-heavy sub-contenders like the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks, as those teams are more likely to make a leap forward via partial overhaul or earth-shattering max-signing than internal development and excellent late round draft picking. Save for perhaps Memphis, Indiana appears to occupy a category all its own; a mix of savvy above average and/or borderline all-star veteran talent (David West, George Hill, Danny Granger) and still developing above average and/or borderline all-star young talent (Roy Hibbert, Paul George) sitting on the cusp of elite status. Indiana fans would not be foolish to believe in the possibility of a championship in the team’s near future but would be foolish to believe that winning a championship wouldn’t be an epic upset. Indiana’s draft philosophy should reflect where it stands in the NBA’s pecking order. They should not stash like San Antonio, go with strict need like Miami and Boston, or dump like the Los Angeles Lakers. They are also too good and too close to contention to strictly go with the best player available, blind of position, fit, and need as teams like Orlando or Philadelphia probably should.

They should try to find the late 1st round prospect that has elite potential, but not chase that dream down a hole that leads them to duplicate the skill sets of the most elite players already on their roster. When picking all the way down at #26 it is difficult to check all of these boxes; to balance all of these competing strategies. Luckily for Indiana, in this mock scenario, the player who balances all of these competing guidelines is available: Marquis Teague. Teague is a 6-2″, 180 lbs., freshman point guard who was rated the #5 overall player by Rivals.com and the #1 overall point guard coming out of high school. Much like teammate Terrence Jones, Teague likely sacrificed some of his own personal stats in his sole college season in order to be a part of a star-laden NCAA champion Kentucky starting 5. However, despite rarely being the focal point of his team’s offense, Teague managed to average 10.0 ppg, 4.8 apg, and 2.5 rpg.

Teague also seemed to elevate his scoring a bit during Kentucky’s tournament run, most obviously, in his 24 point (on 10-14 shooting) output against Iowa State in the Round of 32. Teague sole collegiate season and his draft stock dive is reminsicent of what happened to Philadelphia 76ers budding star point guard Jrue Holiday at UCLA. Holiday, who was ranked #2 overall by Rivals.com coming out of high school and was the 2008 Gatorade High School Player of the Year, did not “meet expectations” in his single collegiate season when he was forced to play out of position at shooting guard, teamed up with senior point guard Darren Collison in Los Angeles. As a result, Holiday dropped to pick #17 in the 2009 NBA Draft where Philadelphia happily snapped him up. He has, thus far, had a highly successful career in Philadelphia. While the sacrifice Teague made was not identical to the one made by Holiday, this panelist believes that it produced similar results.

The Indiana Pacers have some decisions to make at the point guard and combo guard positions. Leandro Barbosa is a free agent and, while talented, does not contribute enough for what it will likely take to re-sign him. Darren Collison (ironically the same Darren Collison whose presence stifled Holiday’s growth at UCLA) currently serves as the backup point guard to George Hill. Hill’s contract is up as well and Indiana has to determine what to do with him. It is likely that one or even two of the incumbent trio of point guard/combo guards on Indiana’s roster will not return next season. The most likely and sound scenario would be for Indiana to re-sign Hill to a reasonable deal and either let Barbosa go and retain Collison or let Barbosa go and see what Collison might bring back in a trade. In either of those scenarios Teague makes sense. He has decent height and the scoring ability to play some off-guard as a backup, and could slide into the backup point guard role if Collison is traded as well. Like Holiday, this panelist also believes that Teague has the potential to become an up and coming star in the league; one who could ultimately steal the starting duties from Hill and maybe even be that final piece that pushes Indiana firmly into the contender category. (A. MacMullan)

What a difference a year makes.  After confidently upsetting the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 2010-2011 playoffs, and then pushing the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games, the Grizzlies underachieved in the 2011-2012 postseason.  There was no shame in losing to the Clippers, who are relevant for the first time in a long time, maybe ever.  But expectations were high for a team that were set to benefit from the presence of previously injured (and max deal receiving) small forward Rudy Gay.  In the wake of an early playoff exit, many are speculating about a potential deal to send Gay out of town and bring in a more complementary player.  This panelist believes that much of the dissatisfaction with Gay isn’t with his play, but with his salary.  His performance in the regular season, and later in the playoffs wasn’t the death knell for the Grizzlies, and lined up with Randolph and Gasol, the Grizzlies have one of the most dynamic frontcourts in the league.

The problem with the Grizzlies is a problem that small-market teams everywhere are familiar with; it takes a ton of money to keep near-stars in your city.  Overpaying Rudy Gay was a calculated choice, just like overpaying Marc Gasol was a calculated, and more universally defensible choice. Ditto Mike Conley (in this panelist’s opinion, the Conley money is the most egregious).  The Grizzlies will have four players under contract at the end of 2012-2013.  But man, those four will be able to serve rack ribs to their family and friends until the day they die.  Those salaries, for the 2013-2014 season are:

Zach Randolph: $17,800,000

Rudy Gay: $17,888,932

Marc Gasol: $14,860,523

Mike Conley: $7,900,000

Total: $58,449,455

After paying those four players, the Grizzlies will have eight roster spots to fill, and only around $12 million to do so before they hit the luxury tax threshold.  First-round pick salaries scale up from year to year, and are guaranteed.  It would be wise, at this point in the draft, to use caution.  Don’t spend money on a player who may not be a significant contributor to the team, and who has never played in an NBA game.  The margins are too thin for the Grizzlies to risk much.  Evan Fournier is the best international prospect in the draft, and Memphis can analyze his ability to contribute before deciding whether he will join the team in Memphis or whether they will “stash” him abroad until the salary climate is more palatable.

Fournier’s game isn’t the stuff of recent top internationals Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo.  He’s a more polished product, even if scouts don’t think he has the potential of the two previously mentioned prospects.  His shooting has improved, and while his defense is a work in progress, it is nothing that NBA coaches can’t teach when a young player is willing to learn. (C. Dirks)

Doron Lamb. Boobie Gibson Lite, if Boobie Gibson weren’t already the epitome of Lite.  This panelist has no supremely high hopes for Doron Lamb, but the Cavaliers don’t need him to be a breakout player.  What they need him to do is what he does best. Catch and shoot from mid-range out to the three-point line.  Many of Mr. Lamb’s weaknesses (and he has several) will be masked by Kyrie Irving’s playmaking.  Cleveland, by drafting Barnes and Lamb, will address their biggest need (shooting) in style.  It doesn’t hurt that Doron is a solid defender, and puts in great effort on that side of the floor.

Lamb has also shown to be capable at handling the ball for brief periods of time, which should give Irving time to flare out for his own shot, as well.  As this draft wears on/hurtles forward at an electric pace the picks aren’t always as sexy as we’d hope.  For most teams that draft in the late first round, that is because their roster is already full of competitive players, and draft picks are made with acquiring backups to incumbent starters in mind.  That is not the case with the Cavaliers, who are in the process of stockpiling talent under their new, post-WITNESS, mantra of “eight guys.”  It seems only fitting to mention this shift in philosophy in the wake of the “self-proclaimed former King” (thank you SO much, Dan Gilbert, for that letter) winning a championship in five games in some part due to the contributions of ever-surly, ever-limping swingman Mike Miller.

The Cavaliers are a few years away from serious contention, but this panelist was both surprised and a little bit jealous to see how effective rookie-of-the-year winner Kyrie Irving was last season.  As long as Clevelanders can remain patient with the team’s slow march back to respectability, they will be rewarded.  The team already has one one sure-fire piece in place.  Hopefully, Harrison Barnes and Tristan Thompson become building blocks as well.  Doron Lamb projects to help this team in a less pronounced, but still essential way, and will bring a degree of championship experience to a team that relishes every win due to their scarcity and their sweetness. (C. Dirks)

The Atlanta Hawks might never recover from the Joe Johnson deal. Between the 2012-213 season and the 2015-2016 season Atlanta will give an unassertive, fit for sidekick duty, at best borderline All-Star close to $100 million dollars. This panelist comes from the school of thought of not paying max money unless you have either (a) a prime time perennial all-star, game changing talent; or at least (b) a sidekick, All-Star talent who completes the puzzle of an otherwise ready made contender. Johnson’s signing did not fit either of those categories. And yet, Atlanta does not feel like quite as hopeless a case as some of the other middling teams this panel has discussed. For starters they aren’t constructed around one player who wants out like Orlando, their roster isn’t as bland as Houston’s, and they aren’t run by a complete idiot like Washington is. But the hope this panelist maintains for Atlanta goes beyond their not being fully in NBA purgatory or on NBA skid row.

The hope likely comes from the belief that, while Atlanta surely lacks that bonafide #1 star player that seems necessary to truly contend for a title they (a) have a lockdown bonafide #2 and #3 in Al Horford and Johnson respectively and (b) although unlikely, they may still be able to find a way to grab that #1 in the next couple of years. Of course, forging an unlikely path to a #1 will absolutely require parting ways with current forwards Josh Smith and Marvin Williams when their contracts run out after 2012-2013 (Williams has a player option for 2013-2014 that he might be inclined to exercise given his increasingly diminishing returns, so stay tuned to see how that plays out). Smith has, at times, been the best player on Atlanta’s roster, but watching Atlanta and listening to Smith and management, one gets the impression that the relationship has simply run its course. There haven’t been any massive blowups of note, but Smith, a Georgia product, seems ready to see what life outside of Atlanta has to offer, and the franchise seems to be aware that a deal for Smith that mirrors what they gave to Johnson will cost way too much without helping the franchise move toward true contender status.

This of course, leaves the door open that Atlanta could offer Smith up as an expiring contract/late season addition to a contender. Also, if things go absolutely horribly with Dwight Howard in Orlando is there any chance something could be worked out to acquire Howard for a one or partial year flyer with Smith as the centerpiece of Orlando’s return package? Its unlikely but not completely impossible. (If only Ernie Grunfeld could be the GM of every team this panelist wants to make a trade with) Atlanta’s best move going forward, however, might just be to stick it out with Smith for 2012-2013 and then let him walk. The 2013 free agent class is set to include Chris Paul, Howard, and Andrew Bynum, all significant talent upgrades from Smith. If Smith and a few other expiring contracts are off the payroll at that time Atlanta should conceivably have the money to go after one of them. And while the atmosphere inside Phillips Arena has never been categorized as “electrifying”, there are worse cities for a marquee NBA free agent to wind up than Atlanta (Milwaukee, Charlotte, Sacramento, the list goes on…).

If Smith’s, and possibly Williams’ time in Atlanta is coming to a close Atlanta could be the perfect landing spot for Royce White, forward from Iowa State University. White has incredibly impressive ball handling skills and court vision for a forward who stands 6’8 and weighs in at 270 lbs. He shined this past season as a transfer to Iowa State from Minnesota, where off the court issues kept him from ever suiting up. White averaged 13.4 ppg with a 53.4 fg%, 9.3 rpg, and 5 apg while taking on a significant portion of the ball handling and distribution duties in a point-forward role. What’s also impressive about White’s performance in his sole collegiate season, is that he appeared to raise his level of play against stiffer competition.* (See below for a sample of some of his most outstanding games against talented teams) White might be capable of sliding into either Smith or Williams’ spot within his first few years in the league, allowing Atlanta to spend free agent money on other positions.

Of course, any discussion of White must include his anxiety issues, fear of flying, and early college run ins with the law. Any fan of the draft and of college basketball is likely as aware of the potential negatives White brings to the table as much as the on-court positives. This panelist believes these issues have been discussed elsewhere enough and do not need to be retread in this post. Further, while this panelist certainly believes that White’s past and current issues are relevant to his draft stock, without access to White himself or special expertise in mental health issues, this might be the one area of NBA draft assessment that the panelist is willing to leave to the professionals. It should be noted, however, that early reports out of individual team interviews indicate White has blown teams away with his candidness and maturity. Given that Atlanta drafts at #23 and the likelihood of the departure of a few key forwards in the near future, the franchise could do much worse than taking a chance on the supremely talented Royce White when their turn comes around. If White turns out to be as good as some think he could be he could be the steal of the draft. If that scenario plays out Atlanta will want for nothing at the forward position and also may be one significant free agent signing away from true contender status. (A. MacMullan)

Opponent      Pts.      Rebs.      Assists

Lehigh           25          11             2

Michigan        22          13            3

Kansas          18          17            4

Kansas St.     22           8             4

Missouri         20           6             9

UCONN          15          13            2

Kentucky        23           9             4

If everything comes up Celtics for the next few years, Andrew Nicholson has the potential to be somewhere between Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson.  He had a really solid post-up game competing in the A-10, which may or may not translate to the NBA.  Fortunately for Nicholson, and for the Celtics should they select him, the scope of his identity as a player is not limited to a 6-9 power forward with a questionably translatable post-up game.  Nicholson can really shoot.  For a guy that didn’t start playing competitive basketball until his junior year of high school, that’s a good sign.  He has shown progress pushing his jumper distance limit out between seasons at St. Bonaventure and has the kind of frame that will allow him to add strength without slowing down.  Also, the dude is a physics major! Someone get advanced stats on the success rate of NBA players drafted in the first round who also have a degree in physics.

If Garnett elects to re-sign with Boston for a lower salary (because this panelist believes Boston will be far less willing than other teams to pay Garnett market value), Nicholson will be able to learn from one of the best players ever at his position.  And if Garnett leaves, there will be plenty of playing time to test the kid out against players at one of the league’s most piebald and varied positions.  It will behoove Nicholson to watch players like the aforementioned Ryan Anderson, Ersan llyasova and Kevin Love carefully.  Despite their games being more perimeter-based, both players showed last year that they are fully capable of scoring inside from time to time.  Love, Anderson, and Ilyasova also all manage to grab a significant (some more than others) chunk of the available defensive rebounds.  If Nicholson can become this type of flexible power forward in the NBA, he will exceed expectations.  If not, he could find himself lost in a liminal state, like many players with non-traditional skill sets. (C. Dirks)