Dispatches from the Creation Wars

NBA Draft Review

In one of the craziest drafts I’ve ever seen, the craziest move of the night belonged to – who else? – Isiah Thomas. I’ve given the numbers before to demonstrate Thomas’ world class incompetence as an executive, but let’s recap: 3 years ago he took over a 35 win team that was $40 million over the salary cap and had long term contracts with stiffs from one end of the bench to the other He’s traded away 25 players and traded for 18 players in 3 years. And he now has a 20 win team that’s $85 million over the salary cap and long term contracts with a different set of stiffs from one end of the bench to the other.

And with the 20th pick in the draft last night he actually managed to pick a player that I – a college basketball fanatic, a guy who can tell you who the top rated players in the junior class in high school are, a guy who can tell you which teams are recruiting the top 10 players in the class of 2011 – has never heard of. Renaldo Balkman? Who the hell is Renaldo Balkman? No, not Rolando Blackman, the all-star player for the Dallas Mavericks in the 80s. Renaldo Balkman. I had to look him up. He’s a 6’6 forward who was the #3 scorer for South Carolina, an NIT team, averaging less than 10 points a game. Try and find him on anyone’s mock draft for the first round, I dare you. Just when you think Isiah couldn’t possibly get worse, he still manages to surprise you.

Okay, I have to give Thomas a little bit of credit. With their 2nd pick in the first round, he made a very good pick in Mardy Collins, a guy I mentioned yesterday as a real sleeper. The Knicks have 3 point guards on their roster – Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury and Nate Robinson – but they’re all shoot first point guards. Mardy Collins is a point guard who can shoot, and that’s a very different thing. He’ll also do something that none of the other three point guards will do – guard someone. That’s a good pick. It’s a very good pick.

Other things that stick out. Shannon Brown going to the Cavs at #24 is a great pick. He’s a great defensive player and a spectacular finisher on the break, and he’ll be playing with the best passer in the game in Lebron James. Let’s just say there will be an alley oop play or two in the Cavaliers playbook next year. Brown was the #2 player in his high school class, behind Lebron James, and he may actually be a better pure athlete than James is. In the McDonald’s game 3 years ago, he should have won the slam dunk contest over James. At barely 6’3, this guy can dunk from the free throw line. Even in a league full of great athletes, this guy is a freak; his vertical leap from a standstill tops 4 freakin’ feet. He’s got huge hands for a guy his size and can easily palm a basketball and his body is chiseled like a linebacker. But he’s not just an athlete. No one coached by Tom Izzo is just an athlete. He’s tough as nails and he loves to play defense.

The knock on a guy like Shannon Brown is that he’s too short to play shooting guard, but he’s not a point guard. But on a team like Cleveland, where Lebron is really the point guard, that’s not a problem at all. Brown can guard the opposing team’s point guard or shooting guard and Lebron can guard their 2 or 3, depending on the matchups. And since the other team has to play a bigger man on Lebron on the perimeter, Brown will be guarded most times by the opposing team’s point guard, which means rather than having a size disadvantage on both ends, he has a size advantage on both ends. It’s an absolutely perfect fit for Brown. Now if he’s smart, his entire offseason will be spent shooting 3 pointers (though he already shoots over 40% from there).

I was very surprised when Houston drafted Rudy Gay, then traded him to Memphis for Shane Battier. It’s a great trade for Houston and a lousy one for Memphis. Houston gets an outside shooter, great defender and real team leader. Memphis gets an underachieving, half-hearted but talented small forward when they’ve already got Mike Miller at that position. I know Jerry West is supposed to be a genius, but I don’t get that trade at all. And you know Mike Fratello isn’t happy about giving up his team leader and glue guy. And to top it off, Houston threw in Stromile Swift in the deal to make it work with the salary cap, so Memphis just got back the undersized, unmotivated player they managed to pawn off to Houston last year. I don’t get it.

First round picks I like: Jordan Farmar to the Lakers at #26 (best point guard available, local kid, very coachable); Randy Foye somehow ending up in Minnesota (he’ll be electric with Kevin Garnett, playing either guard position); JJ Redick to Orlando (best place for him outside of Houston; playing with Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard will lead to open shots for him); Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge to Portland (they traded with about every team in the league, but ended up with two quality starters out of it); Adam Morrison to Charlotte (who wisely avoided picking Gay).

Picks I don’t like: Rudy Gay to Memphis, as I said; Shelden Williams to Atlanta at #5 (love the player, but the Hawks needed a point guard really bad and passed up on one for the second straight season); Shawne Williams to the Pacers at #17 (redundant with Danny Granger, last year’s #1 pick, and very, very raw).

In many ways, the second round was more interesting than the first. The first several picks were all potentially good – James White to Portland (another freak athlete, but also a great defender), Steve Novak to Houston (they need outside shooting and got a 6’10 player who can shoot the lights out; could be a great player coming off the bench to provide instant offense for them), Paul Davis to the Clippers (should be a good backup to Kaman, runs the court well, good shooter), PJ Tucker to Toronto and Craig Smith to Minnesota (a real banger on the inside).

Like all drafts, it will be 3 years before we can really evaluate who got the best of it. You can make a case for almost every player in the first round having the potential to be great (other than Balkman – if the Knicks hadn’t taken him, they might well have been able to sign him as a free agent because no other team was even going to consider drafting him until at least the middle of the second round – that was truly a “what are they smoking in that war room” pick). But overall, I think the winners were Portland (ended up with at least two starters out of the draft), New Orleans (got two skilled big men in the first round, exactly what they needed) and Houston (traded two stiffs to fill their biggest hole with a solid veteran). And yes, the Sports Guy’s running diary is hysterical. Here’s his take on Isiah’s pick:

9:36 — There are those moments in sports when you expect something great, and then it actually happens. And then there are those rare moments in sports when you expect something great, and something even greater happens. This was one of those moments: The Knicks on the clock, the crowd pushing for Marcus Williams, and then …

–Stern: “With the 20th pick, the New York Knicks select … Renaldo Balkman.”

(Crowd explodes in horror.)

–Stern (over the boos): “Renaldo is not here.”

–Patrick (without missing a beat): “And it’s probably a good thing.”

(Shot of a beaten-down Spike Lee laughing hysterically.)

9:36 — That was fantastic. Everyone kept e-mailing me to write about Isiah and the Knicks last week … what else was there to say? OF COURSE Isiah was meant to coach this team as his final job in the NBA before retiring to a life of greeting people at casinos and doing informercials. If somebody clogs your toilet, you ask him to clean up the mess. That’s just the way life works. I’m telling you, we’re going to remember the Isiah/Knicks Era the same way we remember things like Enron, the Hindenberg and the Bay of Pigs. It’s reached that level. I don’t know what else to say. Honestly. I have Knicks fans e-mailing me every day asking me if it’s OK to root against their own team. What else can you say at this point?

(Wait, I know … Renaldo Balkman!)

Personally, I’m waiting to open the paper and see the headline “Spike Lee stabs Isiah Thomas in Madison Square Garden parking lot”.

Comments

  1. #1 plunge
    June 29, 2006

    Yer a strange one. I think you should retitle your blog “Dispatches from the Culture Wars and Also, I’m Obsessed with Basketball, so Bear with Me”

  2. #2 Jeff Hebert
    June 29, 2006

    Plunge said:

    Yer a strange one. I think you should retitle your blog “Dispatches from the Culture Wars and Also, I’m Obsessed with Basketball, so Bear with Me”

    But then that would be a disservice to his bar-b-q and poker obsessions, too, and that would be wrong. How about we all understand that the unwritten title for this blog is “Whatever the F**k Ed Wants To Talk About” and just enjoy it, hmm?

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    June 29, 2006

    Hey, I only write about basketball maybe 5 or 6 times a year – once in the preseason, a couple times during the NCAA tournament, maybe around the NBA finals, and at draft time. But that’s the cool thing about having a blog, I can write about whatever I feel like writing about. While most of the time that means science, law, religion and politics, it also means once in a while I feel like writing about sports or music or food or entertainment. Man does not live by Supreme Court rulings alone.

  4. #4 steve s
    June 29, 2006

    Let me tell you what this reminds me of. 15 years ago, Tim Hardaway was playing for Golden State against Minnesota. He attempted, and missed, 15 consecutive shots. Around that time, the announcer said that he was nearing the record. And I witnessed Hardaway go out and, i believe intentionally, put up a couple more shots, because what the hell. Might as well fail spectacularly.

    Perhaps Isiah is trying something like that? He got 20, now he’s trying for fewest wins in a season?

  5. #5 plunge
    June 29, 2006

    “How about we all understand that the unwritten title for this blog is “Whatever the F**k Ed Wants To Talk About” and just enjoy it, hmm?”

    Is the lack of any sense of humor and the compulsion to treat everything with deadly seriousness a genetic anomaly in the Hebert clan? :)

  6. #6 Jeff Hebert
    June 29, 2006

    Is the lack of any sense of humor and the compulsion to treat everything with deadly seriousness a genetic anomaly in the Hebert clan? :)

    Yes, and I sure wish my wife were so afflicted, since that might keep her from laughing every time I take off my clothes …

    I just get a little tired of reading posts telling Ed what he can and can’t write about, no offense intended. Well, that’s not true, I meant to be a LITTLE offensive, but not a lot.

    Back on topic, I think Steve S has the right of it, and Isiah is intentionally trying to be the Very Worst Manager Ever. Just “Bad” is not enough for this guy, he has to go for “Epic”.

    Although come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is all a big plot by Joe Dumars. I mean think about it, they played together and won championships in Detroit. What would make a couple of Bad Boys happier than screwing over NEW YORK beyond all normal boundaries of screwed-ness? At this rate the Knicks won’t recover for a decade, leaving clear sailing for the Pistons.

    Genius, I tells ya. Genius.

  7. #7 Jim Anderson
    June 29, 2006

    I wonder if we’ll look back on this draft and say, “Man, we shoulda let high schoolers go straight to the pros.”

  8. #8 Matthew
    June 29, 2006

    I agree about Gay. West has really fallen off in the last few years draft wise, even though he’s still done great overall with that franchise. Gay has a Lamar Odom body but also has that Odom passiveness but also doesn’t seem to care about it. I really don’t see much of a difference between Gay and Warick, who they got last year. West has fallen in love with long athletes with little skill or heart. Battier was one of the most underrated players in the league, and a outstanding community guy. The Rockets really got a steal with him.

  9. #9 kehrsam
    June 29, 2006

    I have to agree with almost everything Ed said. Picking up Battier for the equivalent of pocket lint is just sick, even if he was a Dookie. I really like Morrison at #3. They’re still a few years from contention, but Charlotte has done well in their time in the league — at least as measured by the last Charlotte team.

    Several of the 2d round picks look as good as a lot of the 15-25 guys, certainly better than Balkman.

    My only disagreement is with Orlando taking Reddick. Yes, if he is going to succeed it will be in that type of environment; I just don’t see him shooting for a high enough percentage to succeed. Rex Chapman redux.

  10. #10 FishyFred
    June 29, 2006

    My only disagreement is with Orlando taking Reddick. Yes, if he is going to succeed it will be in that type of environment; I just don’t see him shooting for a high enough percentage to succeed.

    There will always be a roster spot in the NBA for a guy who is a three-point threat and shoots 92% from the free throw line. Allow me to emphasize that latter bit of information. He is AUTOMATIC from the free throw line.

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    June 29, 2006

    I actually think the Knicks will improve next year, in terms of wins, but not because of this draft. It’s actually not as bad a team as it showed last year; the team was actually made worse by Larry Brown. He tried over 40 different starting lineups last year. The rookies last year were actually good (Channing Frye and David Lee in particular), but Brown would play them big minutes one game and then they wouldn’t play at all the next game. You just can’t build a team like that. All Isiah has to do to make the team better is settle on a lineup so they can learn to play together at least to the extent they’re willing to (with those point guards, that’s not much) and let the young guys play. That’ll be good for an extra 10 wins at least. He also plans to play a more up-tempo game, which suits those younger guys better anyway. Sit Curry and James on the bench where they belong and start Frye and Lee at the 4 and 5, either Jalen Rose or Quentin Richardson at the 3, and Marbury and Crawford in the background. Playing an up tempo, run and gun style, that team should win 30 games at least. Brown expected that bunch to play a grind it out halfcourt game and they can’t do that. So they actually will get better next year, I believe. But they won’t be a contender for anything until that roster is blown up.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    June 29, 2006

    As I’ve said before, the range for Redick is fairly wide in terms of how good he might be. In the right kind of system, he could easily be another Jeff Hornacek – he shoots just as well, he’s taller and more athletic, and he’s a better defender. Hornacek averaged about 20 points a game for Utah for many years and was a starter on contending teams for most of his career. At the other end of the spectrum, he could at least be another Steve Kerr – part time starter, key role player on contenders, always in demand as a role player because he can shoot the lights out. I don’t think he could be any worse than Kerr, he’s a bit better at everything he did and appears to be a lot more competitive (and was much better in college than Kerr was). I think he can be better than Hornacek, but that’s about the limit of how good he can be. And I think the Magic would be thrilled if he was that good.

  13. #13 kehrsam
    June 29, 2006

    I agree, Reddick is automatic from the foul line, and he certainly has a place in the NBA. My complaint was he went #11, where you should expect to get a guy cabaple of being a solid starter or better; Reddick’s upside the next few years is quick offense off the bench. And he doesn’t have the height to post anybody up, so it’s not clear how he’s going to get to the free throw line in the pros. He can play, but he wasn’t in the top 20 on my board.

  14. #14 Matthew
    June 29, 2006

    My only disagreement is with Orlando taking Reddick. Yes, if he is going to succeed it will be in that type of environment; I just don’t see him shooting for a high enough percentage to succeed. Rex Chapman redux.

    Wasn’t Chapman an all-star one or two times? He had a very solid nba career any way you look at it. I’m sure Orlando would be ecstatic if Redick turned out like that.

  15. #15 Ed Brayton
    June 29, 2006

    Bad comparison between Chapman and Redick. Chapman was also a freak athlete with a huge vertical leap. Redick is a better athlete than a lot of people think he is, but he’s nowhere near Chapman’s league. But he’s considerably smarter than Chapman, works a lot harder, and has been far better coached.

  16. #16 Matthew
    June 29, 2006

    That’s debatable, Chapman was coached by Eddie Sutton.

    By the way, I just read that out of the 100 players listed in the media guide given out… Renaldo Balkman wasn’t one of them. They had enough players for over 3 rounds worth, and the Knicks 1st round pick wasn’t deemed worthy of inclusion. That’s fantastic.

  17. #17 Ken Brown
    June 29, 2006

    They had enough players for over 3 rounds worth, and the Knicks 1st round pick wasn’t deemed worthy of inclusion. That’s fantastic.

    I keep thinking they’re a NBA version of Major League. The only question is whether real life ends like the movie…

  18. #18 steve s
    June 29, 2006

    Cute bit from Slate:

    Knicks fans don’t want Isiah Thomas fired; they want him jailed.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2144509/?nav=ais

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