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The Depth Of The 2014 NBA Draft

Over the past few days, I have been hard at work on my annual draft board and tiers piece. While it looks like that will not come to pass this year for a few reasons, there are a few takeaways from the experience that would be worthwhile to get out there before the NBA Draft itself on Thursday.

I would like to take a moment at the outset to send my best wishes to Isaiah Austin. As someone who has followed him for years, it was heartbreaking to see Austin’s dream taken away so close to it coming to fruition. Thankfully he reportedly has an insurance policy that could help ease the financial transition. Best wishes moving forward, Isaiah.

General Thoughts

The top of this class has incredible balance to it- Now, some of this comes from Joel Embiid falling back to earth a little with the injuries, but the margin between my No. 1 player (Dante Exum, though that changed three times in the last five days) and my No. 9 player (Aaron Gordon) really is not that big. While there are no clear-cut superstars in this class, there should be a high number of at least solid starters. The 2013 NBA Draft had very few of those and we could see as many as 15 on Thursday with another huge group behind them.

We should see a ton of rotation players come into the league- Going through the guards I was struck by just how many of them could stick in the NBA. I am not in love with point guards like Elfrid Payton and Tyler Ennis, but both should be quality third guards at the absolute worst and the batch of lower rotation players like Lamar Patterson, Fuquan Edwin and Bogdan Bogdanovic could bring depth to a shooting guard position sorely in need of people to soak up minutes.

Throw traditional positional definitions out the window if you have not already- I wrote a few years ago on RealGM that writers and fans alike needed to stop clinging to combining the offensive and defensive roles into one concept of position. The NBA has too much versatility now to define what a guy should do on offense by who he guards on the other end.

Forwards like Dario Saric and Kyle Anderson thrive with the ball in their hands, while Arizona guard Nick Johnson would be better off defending opposing point guards but not running the show. This trend shows up all over the board from Dante Exum and potential revolutionary power forward Jabari Parker at the top to big ballhandlers like Spencer Dinwiddie and Jordan Clarkson in the second round. Teams that understand what they are working with and how to maximize it will reap the benefits like the Spurs did the last few seasons with unconventional talents like Boris Diaw.

The non-Americans in this class might steal the show- While Exum gets the headlines and some of the scorn due to the lack of high level competition in a way that parallels Giannis Antetokounmpo last year, a shocking number of young European players have proven their talents already against better basketball players than the NCAA offers. Clint Capela, Jusuf Nurkic, Vasilije Micic, Dario Saric and Nikola Jokic are all talented players that could play key roles in rotations soon and end up starting in the NBA down the road.

Prospects I am higher on than most

Dante Exum: Exum will get at least one NBA General Manager fired. At present, I cannot be sure if that will be the GM who takes him, one who passes on him, or one who gives up on him too early because of how raw he will come into the league but I do fully expect it to happen. While miles away from his ceiling, Exum could become a genuine rarity in basketball: a player who can legitimately defend both guard positions and succeed on offense against either as well. He is insanely fast for his size with a good handle and I love that he often keeps his head up looking for the pass even when getting into good position to score, one of the marks of a quality distributor. His defense will take a while to come around but I fully expect it to.

Zach LaVine: Take everything I wrote about Exum, temper it with the knowledge that LaVine has a much lower basketball IQ and PG skills at this point and you have what intrigues me so much about the UCLA product. LaVine is more of a vertical athlete and less of a horizontal one than Exum from what I have seen, but he should be able to defend either guard position eventually while being an absolute terror in transition and playing successfully off the ball even if he can never run an offense as the primary ballhandler. Another guy with a seriously low floor with the ceiling to justify a high pick. Be very, very wary of anyone who throws a Russell Westbrook comparison at you- the only thing they have in common is that both attended the same college and are high-end athletes for their position. That’s it.

Clint Capela: Currently, I have Capela at #5 on my board. Rim protection has become one of the best predictors of team success and Capela should bring that from either big man spot. His 7’4.5” wingspan and potent athleticism helped Capela do a nice job blocking shots and grabbing rebounds for Chalon this season despite turning 20 just over a month ago. Serge Ibaka is probably too lofty of a bar to set but even Serge Lite would be an incredibly valuable NBA player.

Adreian Payne: One of the major draft narratives that has persisted over the last few years is that older prospects can be problematic. In terms of projecting ceiling and calibrating against their competition, those concerns are wholly valid and must be considered when evaluating talent. One underappreciated perk of drafting a quality player like Payne in the first round is that you get an immediate impact rotation player while also controlling his rights until he hits 31. That means you get a player’s entire prime before they hit unrestricted free agency for the first time. Payne can shoot well for his position and I expect him to thrive with a coach and teammates who understand how to maximize his substantial talents.

Nick Johnson: People get down on Nick Johson as a prospect because he is undersized at shooting guard. Guess what? He should not be a shooting guard! Johnson reminds me of Avery Bradley: an athletic guy with great energy best suited to blunting the tip of the spear of an opponent’s offense while letting someone else run the show for his team. Taking the ball out of Johnson’s hands could also help his efficiency in terms of both scoring and turnovers which could also enhance his success.

Spencer Dinwiddie: As well as he did in college, I think Dinwiddie could be an even better pro by playing shooting guard on both ends of the floor. While he would lose some of his size advantage, playing a lead guard at the two forces opponents not used to defending primary ballhandlers to do so while also better suiting his own defensive limitations. A quality shooter and distributor, a smart team will take advantage of his low stock due to an ACL injury and pick up a rotation player on the cheap.

Prospects I am lower on than most

Doug McDermott: Kyle Korver’s name has been thrown out a ton recently and folks need to remember that the former Creighton player had to work incredibly hard and improve a ton to become an NBA starter. While McDermott had the far superior collegiate career, he measures out as a straight small forward in the league and will not have athletic advantages on very many of his opponents to create for himself around the arc or in the paint. On top of that, his defense should be horrendous as some have illustrated by pointing out that McBuckets tallied a total of 34 steals and 14 blocks in 145 games at Creighton along with shaky rebounding. His shooting and overall scoring talent coupled with a good work ethic could propel him into a role in the league but his ceiling and floor are both too low for McDermott to be worth a lottery pick in such a good draft.

Elfrid Payton: Payton has been getting substantial hype for justifiable reasons: he tries incredibly hard and has the tools to be an impactful player as both a defender and rebounder. Unfortunately, the NBA still asks the smallest guy on the court to run the offense most of the time and take on some of the scoring load as well in recent years. I have sincere doubts Payton will be able to do either outside of transition, as his 59% free throw shooting backs up his poor offensive numbers against largely inferior competition. People compare him to small school darling Damian Lillard (who I was also low on, for what it’s worth) but the two are very different players.

Gary Harris: While there are many things more in the intangible realm to like about Harris, he had immense trouble finishing at the rim in college and may not have the size to reliably get a jumper off at either guard position in the pros. In my eyes, Harris would ideally defend opposing PG’s but play off the ball because some of his poor shots at Michigan State came from him having too much faith in his jumper when the ball was in his hands. He absolutely could make it but is far from the sure thing some have been portraying him as.

Jerami Grant: I seriously have little idea why he could potentially go in the first round. An athlete who never had to defend in a way that will translate thanks to Syracuse’s system, Grant’s inability to shoot makes it incredibly unlikely that he can stick at Small Forward and only being a good athlete is not enough to even get into a rotation now at any position. 

To close it out, here is my current Top 10 of players in this draft:

1. Dante Exum, PG/SG, Austrialia

2. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas

3. Jabari Parker, PF/SF, Duke

4. Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Kansas

5. Clint Capela, PF/C, Switzerland

6. Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky

7. Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia

8. Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Indiana

9. Aaron Gordon, PF/SF, Arizona

10. James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky

Enjoy the draft and get ready for what looks to be a more exciting than expected offseason.

High Reward Second Round Prospects Of The 2014 NBA Draft

While there are still discussions over who will be the top selection on Thursday, sometimes the difference between an average team and championship contender can come in the second round choices. Former second round picks Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Patty Mills all played crucial roles in the San Antonio Spurs' title run this past season to prove it.

Lance Stephenson and DeAndre Jordan have grown as raw talents into key NBA players on playoff teams. Isaiah Thomas has gone from an undersized point guard drafted with the final pick to the second leading scorer for the Sacramento Kings. Here’s a “starting five” of high-risk, high-reward prospects projected to go in the second round on Thursday.

PG: Jahii Carson, Arizona State

Only 5-foot-11, Carson may be the best pure athlete in the draft. He has elite quickness and leaping ability that helps compensate for his lack of size. Carson is a crafty ball handler who has improved his jump shot over the past season. He’s now a legitimate threat in the pick-and-roll while his ball handling and quickness allow him to create for himself in isolation situations. Carson is a good passer who finds his teammates, but isn’t a pass-first point guard. As an undersized lead guard, his size will always be a question mark. There have also been questions raised about his attitude and coachability. He’s an electrifying playmaker, but it will be interesting to see how Carson translates to the NBA style of play.

SG: Jabari Brown, Missouri

Brown is one of the better three-point shooters in this draft. He torched nets in the SEC this season, averaging 19.9 points per game while shooting 46.7% from the field and 41% from three. In addition, Brown has improved his dribble-drive game this past year and rounded out his overall scoring skill set. The question at the next level will be if Brown can play within his role. He’ll likely be a player off the bench who will need to improve as a passer and defender. There were also reports of a weak work ethic at the combine and individual workouts. He’ll need to prove that he can play hard on both ends of the floor in the NBA, no matter how many minutes he is given.

SF: Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Delaware 87ers

His younger brother, Giannis, turned out to be a steal for the Milwaukee Bucks this past season and now Thanasis looks to join him in the NBA. He won’t be drafted as high as Giannis, but Thanasis still has second round intrigue due to his ceiling. Standing 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan, Antetokounmpo is an elite athlete who plays with great energy. He’s a quality defender who can defend the perimeter due to his physical attributes and motor. The question comes in his offensive skill set. He only averaged 12 points per game in the NBA Development League with a 30.9% showing from behind the arc. Like his brother, there’s still a lot of room for Thanasis to improve. If he can become a good enough shooter to space the floor, he should have no issue finding his way in an NBA rotation, but there’s a chance he can become something even more. Will he reach his full potential?

PF: Johnny O’Bryant, LSU

O’Bryant took a major leap in his junior season. He broke onto the national scene in January when he scored a season-high 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds against a nationally ranked Kentucky squad. The 6-foot-9 power forward added muscle and an improved mid-range jumper to stretch a defense. O’Bryant is a good post player with the ability to score with either hand. On the defensive end, he can defend the post and has the athletic ability to stop the pick-and-roll. What he’ll need to improve is his consistency. He’d have games as successful as his Kentucky performance, but he also had showings where he lacked aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. He’s also considered undersized for the power forward position. If O’Bryant continues to improve his shooting and raise his intensity, he has a chance to be a second round steal.

C: Aaric Murray, Texas Southern

Once considered a four-star recruit and nationally recognized prospect out of high school, Murray averaged 21.6 points and 7.5 points per game for Texas Southern in his senior season. He has the size at 6-foot-11, but has a skinny frame that will need some added muscle. Murray was a versatile center who shot 49.1% from the floor but perhaps even more intriguing was his 33.7% shooting from three-point range. He had a 48-point outburst versus Temple this season where he was 20-of-28 from the floor. Murray clearly has NBA talent, but there are off the court issues plaguing his draft stock. After committing to La Salle out of high school, he had issues with the coaching staff and eventually transferred to West Virginia. At West Virginia, he was arrested on charges of possession of marijuana and eventually transferred again to finish his career at Texas Southern. He hasn’t had any issues during the past season, but will a team be willing to select a player with the history of Murray?

The Third Way

Presumably inspired by the rumors of discussions on a David Lee and Harrison Barnes for Tyson Chandler trade, Evan Zamir tweeted an idea that got my brain chugging.

The question I eventually settled on: Could the Warriors clear enough space to sign two max players in 2015 while keeping Stephen Curry?

When presented with a hypothetical like that and a chance to do the math, I could not turn it down.

Let’s start with the basics

The most recent estimate I have seen for the 15-16 salary cap put it at $66.5 million, though I hope and expect we will see an updated number when the league puts out the hard figure for next season at the end of the July moratorium.

From there, if we are working from the idea that at least one of the two max players will come from cap space (which seems more than fair since trading for both would be quite unlikely), the prudent tact would be to take out two maximum salaries from that cap number. To be conservative, I used a larger hold for someone with LeBron James’ level of experience and one with Kevin Love’s. Those numbers combine to a little over $38 million, meaning the non-max salaries and holds on the books for Golden State could add up to a total of just over $28 million. Including Stephen Curry as a non-negotiable part of that team works that number down to just about $17 million since we know his contract value.

Keep in mind what that $17 million number must include: every salary, cap hold, and exception for an entire non-Curry roster. For reference, the league puts minimum holds on during the offseason for every roster spot a team has under the minimum. Taking those into account and using the assumptions discussed above, the true “wiggle room” in total non-Curry money would be just over $12 million- those $525,093 cap holds really add up.

That means that barring a change to one of the assumptions, no more than one of Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson would be even conceptually possible to be on the team for there to be enough cap space. Thompson’s rather large cap hold puts him in this group, but Draymond Green’s super cheap 14-15 salary actually means he could be a continuing part of the team even with such a drastic strategy.

At this point, the question you should be asking yourself is how this whole thing would work. Basically, the Warriors would need to move all but one of Lee, Bogut, Iguodala and Thompson in deals that only return one of those two max players or expiring contracts. Any other salary counts against the non-Curry total whether you want to use $17 million or $12 million.

The targets

Making such a huge overhaul would require an incredibly strong justification and the potential Unrestricted Free Agent class of 2015 could be worth it.

The players I would consider for these two max slots: LeBron James (if he opts in), Kevin Love (if he opts out or is traded for) and Marc Gasol.

If the team could split one of those max slots among multiple players or three guys take less than the max to play with each other and Curry, the list could expand to include Carmelo Anthony (if he opts in), LaMarcus Aldridge, Brook Lopez (player option, interesting choice if healthy), Goran Dragic (if he opts out), Arron Afflalo (if he opts out), Paul Millsap, DeAndre Jordan, Tony Parker (if you want to have lots of fun), Roy Hibbert (player option), Omer Asik and Robin Lopez.

A core of Stephen Curry with any two of those max guys or one of them and two of the next tier would be quite formidable even in a stacked Western Conference. The other huge factor here would be age- while the current #FullSquad performed well last season, three of the five are on the wrong side of their peak while the team could develop a much more formidable foundation here.

How it would have to work

While not every piece of this would have to be accomplished immediately, the Warriors would need to take major steps in the short term because some moves simply will be too tough to accomplish next summer considering time pressure and leverage.

The best way to look at this is through evaluating what it might take to get each of the large contracts somewhere else while taking back almost exclusively expiring contracts.  Amazingly enough, the rumored Kevin Love trade could actually get the Warriors a substantial portion of the way there since David Lee stands as the only must-trade due to his higher salary.

What we cannot know right now is what teams would see Iguodala or Bogut as an asset at their current salary. I’ve used the term “The Nene Test” as a shorthand for this and both Golden State defensive aces are tough to assess on those grounds. Each has three years and $35-36 million left on their contracts, which can be justified now but may be a tougher sell in the final year or two. Like many baseball deals for players in their thirties, the first couple years of a contract are supposed to be overperformed while the finals years provide the rest of the compensation. Any teams that feel that way would be reticent to acquire either Bogut or Iguodala at their current salaries. The Warriors also have very few sweetners with two first round picks owed to Utah and players like Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green ideally provided the necessary depth behind the core.

That said, a few teams stand out as potential destinations for each: Bogut’s role as a pure center who can be the anchor of a defense could bring the Hawks, Suns, Wizards, Cavs, Thunder and Mavericks to the table, while Iguodala would be a nice fit for the Cavs, Grizzlies,  Suns and others. Also, Brooklyn would be a fascinating possibility for either with Kevin Garnett’s expiring contract. While he does not have much left in the tank, Garnett has added value for the Warriors because of his potential to make a long-term imprint in one season without costing the team salary flexibility. Heck, a deal with a core of Bogut and Iguodala for KG and Brook Lopez could be a nice alignment of interests if the Warriors had a strong indication a second max player would be interested in joining the team. 

Conclusion

Please remember that this was a thought experiment not an advocacy piece.  While a drastic path like this would be possible, it also carries gigantic downside risk since the Warriors are already a good team.

What could make the most sense would be reassessing this concept if the Kevin Love trade happens somewhat close to what has been rumored. From there, the Warriors would have the two more desirable of their contracts to move (Bogut and Iguodala) and could potentially use leverage as the season wears on to move one or both onto desperate teams. Remember what happened with the Wizards and Marcin Gortat after Emeka Okafor got hurt. Playing both sides poses risks too as we are dealing with real people and the team cannot get a commitment from Kevin Love early on so they must keep him happy at least until the ink dries on his next contract.

The useful part of the exercise is that the Warriors still have the flexibility to build a better core with the right mix of aggression and luck.

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The Updated Stepien List

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The Present And Future Of Lance Stephenson

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Why Lance Stephenson Will Be Worth Every Penny

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