A First-Round NBA Mock Draft (Plus A Pick for the Knicks!)

AP Photo, Gety Images
AP Photo/Getty Images

Note: I’m not a fan of putting together mock drafts based solely on what I think is going to happen. That’s boring. Instead, I put together a mock draft that’s a combination of what I think teams will do and what I’d like to see them do. 

Also, the Knicks will have a pick in this mock draft! The team may not have a pick as of right now, but Phil seems determined to purchase at least one pick in either the first or second round. Snagging a first-round pick seems highly unlikely, but purchasing one the several second-round picks the Philadelphia 76ers own is plausible. In this mock, I have the Knicks successfully purchasing the 32nd pick in the draft from the Sixers. 

1. Cleveland Cavaliers- Joel Embiid, C, Kansas

Analysis: It took every fiber of my being not to put Noah Vonleh here because Cavs. If Embiid’s back checks out, he should be the pick. The only problem with picking Embiid is that the Cavs would have a front court that would include Embiid, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller. That’s a lot of minutes to divvy up. At least one of these big men would need to be traded for a quality wing, or more picks. It’s a good problem to have, though.

2. Milwaukee Bucks – Jabari Parker, SF/PF, Duke

Analysis: Bucks General Manager John Hammond is not good at his job, for the most part, but he does draft well. Drafting either Parker, or Wiggins, is a win-win for different reasons. If you draft Parker, you have a nice offense-defense combination for years to come with Parker and Giannis Antekounmpo. If you go Wiggins, the Bucks may never score, but a front court core of Giannis, Wiggins and John Henson would be a nightmare for opposing offenses. Still, I think the better option for the Bucks is to take Parker to play the 4 and build around him from there.

3. Philadelphia 76ers – Andrew Wiggins, SF/PF, Kansas

Analysis: I really, really like the long-term fit of Wiggins with Philadelphia. Even with Wiggins, Nerlens Noel, and Michael Carter-Williams the club is still a couple years away from competing for a playoff spot, so Wiggins won’t have the pressure to flourish right away, like Parker in Milwaukee or Embiid in Cleveland. With this pick, the Sixers will have a really good shot of having back-to-back lottery picks win Rookie of the Year, either Wiggins or Noel,  so can we stop the, “tanking is bad” narrative, please?

4. Orlando Magic – Dante Exum, PG, Australia 

Analysis: The Magic are quietly getting really close to putting together a young, fun roster that could be really dangerous in a couple of years. Victor Oladipo was the easy and correct pick last year. Dante Exum, if he’s there, is the easy and correct pick this year. Exum, Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris is a solid foundation, and they still have a very nice trade-asset in Arron Afflalo that could net them more picks and quality young players sooner rather than later. Keep doing what you’re doing Rob Hennigan.

Utah Jazz trades 2014 No. 5 pick to Toronto Raptors for 2014 No. 20 pick, 2015 first-round pick.

5. Toronto Raptors – Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Toronto Raptors

Analysis: #TakeThatMasaiUjiri!!! The worst spot to be in this draft is No. 5, and the Jazz got saddled with it. They have a bunch of quality young players, but really need one potential star — they’re not going to find him here. Rather than reach on a Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh or Aaron Gordon the better option is to trade out for more picks and try their luck in the lottery again next year.

The Raptors reportedly want to move up, and this is probably as high as they can go. The Raptors are coming off a 48-win season, but are still one or two players short of being a contender in the Eastern Conference. Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson are quality rotation bigs, but the Raptors could really use a big with high offensive upside — Vonleh fits that bill. A Lowry/Ross/DeRozan/Vonleh/Jonas core is incredibly intriguing going forward. Remember, don’t ever doubt Masai Ujiri.

6. Boston Celtics – Aaron Gordon, SF/PF, Arizona

Analysis: A lot of writers and analysts think the Celtics or Lakers trade out of No.6 or No.7, but I don’t think they will. The Celtics and Lakers should go BPA, and maybe flip them for a star down the road. I prefer Randle’s game, but Gordon is probably the more likely of the two to end up in Boston with a defensive-minded coach in Brad Stevens.

7. Los Angeles Lakers – Julius Randle, SF/PF, Kentucky

Analysis: I don’t think Randle is going to be a star in the NBA, but I think he could be the third or fourth best player on a contender. The Lakers lack talent up front (Hi, ex-Knick Jordan Hill!), so drafting Randle would be a step in the right direction.

8. Sacramento Kings – Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State

Analysis: I could definitely see the Kings trading out of this spot, but I don’t think they should if Marcus Smart is here at No.8. Isaiah Thomas is a great 6th man, but Kings’ head coach Mike Malone you’d think would love a point guard like Smart to pair next to Ben McLemore.

9. Charlotte Hornets – Doug McDermott, SF/PF, Creighton

Analysis: The Hornets are in good shape defensively with Steve Clifford in charge, but they really need more guys who can space the floor, so I like McDermott a lot here. I’m not sure if he’s a 3 or a 4 in the NBA, but I do think he’s a guy who could contribute right away for a team that needs shooters like Charlotte.

10. Philadelphia 76ers – Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia

Analysis: Even if Saric hasn’t fully clarified his intentions to play in the NBA next season, his talent merits being taken at No. 10 by the Sixers. It’s going to be another developmental year in Philly, so worst-case scenario, they can still afford to wait one more season for the Croatian point forward.

Denver Nuggets trade No. 11 pick, Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari pick to Brooklyn Nets for Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Andray Blatche and a 2018 first-round pick.

No, seriously, it works! 

11. Brooklyn Nets – Jusef Nurkic, C, Bosnia

Analysis: The Nuggets need a serious roster shakeup, and the Nets are interesting match. I don’t think Lopez or Deron are untouchable, and I think Denver would be a good landing spot for the duo. On the flip side, the Nets would get a lot younger with Lawson and Gallo, so that’s a major plus to a team with too many veterans. You need a balance of youth and veterans, so I think both teams would benefit greatly from a deal like this.

12. Orlando Magic – James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky

Analysis: I think there’s a big possibility Afflalo is traded this summer, and the Magic can find his replacement here in Young. The one concern I have with Young is whether or not he’ll be able to guard NBA forwards. On the flipside, the Magic really need to surround Oladipo and Exum with shooters who can space the floor to give them open lanes to get to the line or find open guys on the perimeter. Out of all the 3-and-d guys available, Young probably has the highest upside.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves – Nik Stauskas, SG/SF, Michigan

Analysis: I have no idea what the Timberwolves are going to do here, but they definitely need outside shooting, so I like Stauskas here for the Wolves. If the Wolves decide to keep Love around for next season, they have to surround him with better shooters. If Chase Budinger can stay health lineups with Chase and Stauskas on the floor could be lethal for opposing defenses.

14. Phoenix Suns – Gary Harris, SG/PG, Michigan State

Analysis: A lot of quality wings are going to go off the board here, and Harris makes the most sense for Phoenix. Harris gives Phoenix a nice a combo guard to backup Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic going forward. I don’t think Harris profiles as a starting 1 or 2 in this league, but in a situation like this where he can play next to Dragic or Bledsoe at all times would be the perfect situation for a player like Harris.

15. Atlanta Hawks – Rodney Hood, SG/SF, Duke

Analysis: DeMarre Carroll had a more than solid season, but he’s probably at his peak right now/is best served as a defensive hellion coming off the bench. I think Danny look to get younger at the 2 or 3, and draft the best 3-and-D guy available. In this case, it’s Rodney Hood. Also, if John Jenkins can stay healthy next year a wing tandem of Carroll, Korver, Hood and Jenkins would put a ton of pressure on opposing defenses from downtown.

16. Chicago Bulls – Zach LaVine, SG/PG, UCLA

Analysis: I was really tempted to go Tyler Ennis here, but I don’t think we’re at that point with Derrick Rose where the Bulls need to be looking for his replacement — maybe if things go sour again next season.I could also see the Bulls grabbing a 4 or 5, but I think that largely depends on whether or not Mirotic comes over next season. LaVine has a lot of bust potential, but this would be a really good situation for him. The Bulls need more wing help with Luol Deng’s departure, so I think this works out well for both sides.

17. Boston Celtics – Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse

Analysis: I think Rajon Rondo’s days in Boston are numbered. If so, Ennis makes a lot of sense here. The Celtics need more dynamic offensive players, and Ennis definitely fits that bill. I wouldn’t hand him the keys right away, either, so they could keep Rondo around for another season until Ennis is ready. Kind of like the situation in Atlanta with Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder.

18. Phoenix Suns – Kyle Anderson, SF/PF, UCLA

Analysis: More wings for Phoenix! It seems unlikely the Suns keep all these picks, but unless they’re making a deal for Kevin Love, or any other superstar, their best bet is to keep going BPA — that’s why I like Anderson here. What the Suns got out of Gerald Green this year was incredible, so I’d love to see them get their hands on a player like Anderson to develop from the start.

19. Chicago Bulls – Adreian Payne, PF/C, Michigan State

Analysis: Drafting Payne, along with Mirotic coming over, would signal the end of the Carlos Boozer Era in Chicago, which I don’t think would be an issue for most Bulls’ fans. Payne would add a dimension to the Bulls front court they’ve missed since Boozer’s decline. Anybody that helps make the Bulls more watchable offensively — I’m all for it.

20. Utah Jazz – Kristaps Porzingis, PF/C, Latvia 

Analysis: I’ve started to notice I may an unhealthy obsessions with tall, lanky, stretch 4s who can shoot 3s, and defend, in the NBA. Porzingis doesn’t turn 19 until August, but is already 7-feet-tall and 220 pounds. He has the Andrea Bargnani frame, so that’s a bit scary, but if Porzingis lucks into a situation like Utah I think he could be the kind of player people hoped Bargnani would become.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder – Clint Capela, PF/C, France 

Analysis: Capela is one of the more raw prospects who will probably have to be brought along slowly by whichever team drafts him. In OKC, he can play behind Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Adams and Kendrick Perkins until he’s ready to become a serious contributor for the team.

22. Memphis Grizzlies – Jordan Adams, SG/SF, UCLA

Analysis: The Grizzlies don’t need a lot, but they do need wing help to limit Tayshaun Prince’s minutes, and Adams would be a nice fit for this team. Adams is a really talented offensive player who shot 35 percent from 3 last year, can rebound, and is a solid passer for his position. The Grizzlies need all the floor spacers they can get, and Adams fits that bill.

23. Utah Jazz – Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG/SF, Serbia

Analysis: Bogdan Bogdanovic might be my favorite player in this draft for his name alone. I like this pick for Utah because it’s basically Gordon Hayward insurance, in case the front office allows him to bolt this summer. Either way, the Jazz need more wing depth so Bogdanovic makes a lot of sense here.

24. Charlotte Hornets – P.J. Hairston, SG/SF, UNC

Analysis: The Hornets got McDermott earlier in this mock draft, and now they’ll get another floor spacer in the backcourt with Hairston. I was much more of a Reggie Bullock guy last summer, Hairston’s former teammate at UNC, because of his lethal 3-point shot. Hairston flourished in the NBA D-League this summer, though, and the Hornets could use another combo guard to play off Kemba Walker. Kind of like Reggie Jackson’s role in OKC.

25. Houston Rockets – Walter Tavares, C, Cape Verde

Analysis: The Rockets really want that third superstar, but they’re not going to find him with the 25th pick in the draft. But they can find Omer Asik’s long-term replacement at the center position in Tavares. If the Rockets want that third superstar they’ll have to trade Asik to make it happen, so they might as well find his replacement here.

26. Miami Heat – Shabazz Napier, PG, UConn

Analysis: The Heat, and Mario Chalmers, have a tough decision on their hands this offseason as Chalmers can move on this summer if he wants to get paid. Chalmers has a small role with the Heat, but he’s effective at it and plays within their system really well. That said, he’s still replaceable and if some team like the Milwaukee Bucks wants to give him a nice payday you let him walk and find a perfect replacement in Napier here.

27. Phoenix Suns – K.J. McDaniels, SF/PF, Clemson

Analysis: K.J. McDaniels seems like the perfect guy to have on your team in a pickup game — a lot of energy, insanely athletic, and an above-average defender, but I’m still not high on him as an NBA player. His game kind of resembles DeMarre Carroll, and if McDaniels ever develops a 3-point shot, maybe he can get there. What McDaniels can do on the basketball court is exactly what the Suns like in their wings.

28. Los Angeles Clippers – Jarnell Stokes, PF/C, Tennessee

Analysis: The Clippers only glaring weakness is their front court depth behind DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. Most analysts don’t have Stokes going in the first round, but he’d be a really nice fit in Los Angeles, I think. If Lob City is still a thing, how can you not draft Stokes here?

29. Oklahoma City Thunder – Elfrid Payton, PG, La-Lafayette 

Analysis: Derek Fisher is probably retiring, and I’m not convinced Reggie Jackson will be in Oklahoma City for the long-term. The Thunder are probably going to need a new backup for Russell Westbrook, and Payton fits that bill.

30. San Antonio Spurs – Mitch McGary, PF/C, Michigan

Analysis: What a difference a year makes. McGary probably would have been a lottery pick a year ago, but this year he’ll be lucky to go in the first round of the draft. San Antonio, like OKC, don’t need much but adding McGary to the front court of Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, and Boris Diaw should only help things. His injury concerns are troublesome, but the Spurs can take the risk.

 *Knicks purchase Sixers 32nd pick in the draft for the amount James Dolan refused to add to Steve Kerr’s offer sheet.*

 32. New York Knicks – Vasilije Micic, PG, Serbia

Analysis: Phil reportedly wants to buy either a first-round or second-round pick in this draft, but the second-rounder is more likely. The Sixers have more second-round picks than Cersei Lannister has glasses of wine before noon. If I had to bet, Steve Blake is the starting Knicks point guard on opening night next year, and whether or not Phil can send Raymond Felton packing this offseason (doubt it), finding his long-term replacement has to be a part of New York’s agenda.

The Knicks could go one of two ways here, and I like both options, by either taking Micic or Nick Johnson with the pick here. Johnson played primarily at the 2 in college, but DraftExpress thinks he could make the transition to a point guard in this league. He’s smart, athletic and can shoot the basketball. Still, it’d be risky to plan for Johnson to be your point guard of the future. For that reason, I think Micic should be the pick here. Micic is 6-foot-5, (Phil’s Zen senses are tingling), a natural point guard, excellent passer, unselfish, and is an above-average 3-point shooter. There’s a lot to like about Micic’s game, but most importantly it’s a style that can work within the Triangle.

New York Knicks Coaching Roundup, Part 3: Brian Shaw And Friends

Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

If you looked up “Phil Jackson” in the Urban Dictionary (do not look up Phil Jackson in the Urban Dictionary) I imagine the definition would essentially read “winning.” Phil Jackson has won a lot of championships, and so he’s become synonymous with winning. Even though it’s a bit of a tautology, It’s a reputation he, himself, has earned, but one his protégés have not.

Phil’s coaching tree is more like a Whomping Willow which includes: Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons, Bill Cartwright, Frank Hamblen and…Brian Shaw. The jury is still out on Shaw’s coaching acumen, but turning a 50-plus-win team into a 36-win team isn’t a great first impression. But that’s what makes the Brian Shaw to New York situation so interesting. Why are the Nuggets dead-set on holding onto a Phil Jackson’s young squires when the rest of the branches the tree has a combined winning percentage of 46 percent?

Whenever a head coach or a manager is traded–which is a very rare occurrence–they’ve typically already established themselves as elite coaches or managers either by winning a championship(s) or just winning a lot of games. That is not the case here. You trade draft picks and cash for elite head coaches like Doc Rivers or Stan Van Gundy or Tom Thibodeau. But you can’t do that for somebody like Shaw, and it looks like the Knicks, outside of Phil, understand that.

Still, being able to trade coaches is weird. It’s weird because you can’t trade players for coaches, but you can trade cash and draft picks (which turn into players) for them. It’s also usually an awkward situation that is littered with organizational drama (see: Gruden, Jon and Rivers, Doc.) It’s typically not a good look for you organization if your head coach is trying to get traded to another team, which is another reason it’s such a rare occurrence.

The Knicks want Shaw, but they don’t have the assets to get him. For the Clippers to get Doc they had give up a 2015 first-round pick that was unprotected. The Orlando Magic had to give up multiple draft picks and cash to the Miami Heat for Van Gundy, and he had already been replaced in Miami. Trading for a guy with only one year of head coaching experience and sub-.500 record shouldn’t require a team to give up multiple draft picks and cash. Sure, it’s a small sample, but Shaw is not the hot commodity he once was when he was an assistant in Indiana. The Knicks would be foolish to give up anything but cash to bring him aboard (although that’s also their only option).

The Knicks aren’t the only team trying to trade for another team’s head coach, but they’re not swinging for the fences (more like just trying to get on base) like the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves are. The Grizzlies reportedly want to make a major play for Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, while the Timberwolves are in deep discussions to trade for current Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger. Yes, it’s as confusing as it sounds.

As confusing and as crazy as those situations are, it’s still easy to see why both teams are making the choices they are. Stealing Thibodeau away from Chicago would be a major coup for Memphis. Flip Saunders needs to make a major splash to try and make a last-ditch effort to convince Kevin Love to stay — Joerger qualifies as a major splash. Giving up a couple of draft picks and cash for an elite coach(s) when your roster looks like Memphis’ or Minnesota’s that’s OK. When your roster looks like the Knicks’, it’s not OK. Shaw isn’t the answer in New York, but Thibodeau and Joerger could be in Memphis and Minnesota.

Phil appears to be dead-set on hiring a head coach that he can mentor and mold. Perhaps that potential synergy between GM and head coach is what finally turns Phil’s coaching tree around. Maybe Shaw can still be an elite head coach in this league if he has Phil around to guide him once again. It was clear that the current Nuggets roster doesn’t mesh with Shaw’s vision, but how long are the Nuggets and/or Shaw willing to wait turn that vision into reality? If Shaw doesn’t turn it around next season, would it really be that shocking if the Nuggets decided to fire him? I tend to think no, especially when you look at the Golden State situation, because head coaches in this league typically have a very small window of time to make significant progress.

Brian Shaw is probably not going to be the next head coach of the New York Knicks, and that’s OK. The Nuggets have all the leverage, and the Knicks don’t have the assets to make it happen. That’s also OK. This is perhaps the one instance that the Knicks’ lack of draft picks is a good thing because it’d be a mistake to give up multiple draft picks for a head coach with his track record.

Shaw and Phil could be great together in New York, but so could Fisher and Phil — without the cost. However, wrestling Fisher away from the Oklahoma City Thunder could also be a challenge for Phil. According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Fisher could return to the Thunder next season as a player/assistant in a role similar to Juwan Howard’s role in Miami. It’s a win-win situation for Fisher. He either stays in Oklahoma City to get some coaching experience with a franchise that adores him, or goes to New York where Phil would also love to have him. Fisher can’t lose, but the Knicks can.

Then there is Tyronn Lue, an assistant under Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, who you would think would jump at the opportunity for the Knicks’ head coaching position, if he’s offered the gig. Lue is just 37-years-old and has played and coached under Phil Jackson, Rivers, Jeff Van Gundy and other great current and former head coaches in this league. Of course, Lue, like all the other Knicks’ head-coaching candidates, is an unknown, simply because he hasn’t been a head coach in this league. If Fisher elects to return to Oklahoma City, you would expect Phil to turn Lue. It may not be a sexy hire, but you could argue Lue is the most qualified candidate of the bunch.

I have no idea which route the Knicks are ultimately going to take, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Knicks’ next head coach will be one of Phil’s former point guards.

The MD’A and the Thibs: A Parable

You have probably heard the  cliché “defense wins championships” more times in your sports-watching and -enjoying life than you can recall. Even though there have been a number of teams that have relied more on their offense than their defense, it’s a phrase that will bring conversations about the games we love to a shuddering halt.

But the fact that we’re calling it a cliché speaks to the fact that both causal and utterly devoted fans are starting to realize that there’s a lot more to winning than simply blurting out those three three words like slamming a concrete block on the table in the midst of a dinner party, folding one’s arms, glaring at the shocked and/or pearl-clutching fellow guests and assuming that  evening is over.

Which brings us to former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni and current Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. For both these gents, the general assumption is that they’re fairly one-dimensional, wringing as much juice out of their innovations on one side of the floor while totally disregarding the other, while getting the most out of role players and playing guys way too many minutes. The thing is (again, we’re talking about the casual fan’s view here), Thibs is a genius and D’Antoni is a tired hack whose philosophy has been more or less incorporated by many of the teams in the league and probably should be sent out to the coach’s version of an old folks’ retirement community.

Prior to Phil Jackson’s arrival in New York, Thibodeau was the guy that many Knicks fans wanted. The ‘Bockers have been down this road before, though,  with the offensive genius that is/was D’Antoni. We know how that turned out, but there are a lot of parallels between the two situations. D’Antoni was as hot of a commodity around the league as Thibodeau is now, and left Phoenix for what he thought would be greener pastures. Thibodeau may be feeling the same sense of wanderlust, what with Derrick Rose’s injury history and his reported rift with the front office. It wouldn’t shock me if Thibodeau stayed in Chicago, but it wouldn’t shock me if he left for what he thinks might be a nicer coaching neighborhood either.

D’Antoni had a great thing going in Phoenix, but ultimately decided to cash in on his demand. That’s a decision he reportedly still regrets to this day. Thibodeau hasn’t achieved the playoff success he probably would have liked by this point in his tenure, but he still boasts former league MVP on the roster and the current Defensive Player of the Year. Thibodeau would probably be wise to ride it out in Chicago like D’Antoni should have chosen to do in Phoenix.

If you have a below-average roster, but your guys play hard and are statistically above-average on defense the team becomes a great story. Sure, they may be basically reenacting Sharknado on the offensive end of the floor, but if they’re gritty and trying hard defensively they’ll typically still be viewed as a lovable underdog. The 2013-14 Chicago Bulls fit this description for the most part, and Thibodeau is praised for it. Does Thibodeau deserve a lot of credit for getting the most out of his players he possibly can? Of course, but the team was still 28th in the league in offensive efficiency. On the flipside, the Bulls were second in the league in defensive efficiency.

Would having Derrick Rose in the lineup change things significantly for the Bulls offensive efficiency? Of course, the 2010-11 Bulls team was top-5 in both categories. So, Thibodeau has shown he can craft an effective stratagem on both sides of the floor when Rose is around to run it.

Like Thibodeau, D’Antoni has had the misfortune of not having an elite point guard for a long time dating all the way back to his Phoenix Suns days with Steve Nash. He didn’t win a championship, but he came pretty close in a much more competitive conference. With Nash, the Suns had seasons where they were the most efficient team in the league offensively, and still fell in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency. Just because he didn’t win a title doesn’t mean D’Antoni’s time in Phoenix wasn’t a huge success. It was.

At the time, fans and analysts loved the Suns, and more importantly D’Antoni’s style, but time went on and he was never able to win a title. He never got the Suns to the NBA Finals, but neither has Thibodeau. The former has seen his reputation become increasingly diminished because of how his tenure in New York and Los Angeles turned out. The latter has seen his reputation continue to rise and could possibly replace the former in Los Angeles. Why? Because defense and grit is an easier sell to the fans.

Thibodeau is praised for winning almost 50 games with D.J. Augustine at point guard, while D’Antoni got just the same production out of lottery bust Kendall Marshall, if not more. But narratives you see. The reason being the Lakers were a dumpster fire this season with all of their injuries, while the Bulls played an Eastern Conference schedule and weren’t decimated to the extent of the Lakers. It’s just the nature of the beast.

D’Antoni isn’t an elite NBA head coach, but he’s a really good one who can win a lot of games when he has an above-average point guard and a roster that fits his style. Same can said for Thibodeau, and that’s perfectly fine.

Thibodeau hasn’t been a head coach in the league as long as D’Antoni, and his teams are easy to cheer for, much like D’Antoni’s Suns teams. That’s not something he can control, obviously, but if things go sour in Chicago and Rose never returns to his MVP form the Bulls fan base will get more seasons highlighted by one-dimensional play. The big question will be how long they’ll put up with it.  If Thibodeau goes to Los Angeles or anywhere else and gets saddled with the roster and injury concerns D’Antoni’s last two coaching jobs have had he too may suffer the same unfair scrutiny D’Antoni has undergone in recent years. Again, that just seems to be the nature of the beast.

Granted, there is fact-based underpinning with regards to the defense/offense schism. As Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal wrote today:

Since the NBA’s first season in 1946-47, only 10 teams that led the league in scoring went on to win the title. Just two of those have been since the 1970s, none since 1998. And statistically speaking, there has been a slightly negative correlation between a fast-paced team’s number of possessions a game in the regular season and winning in the postseason, according to Stats LLC.

Or maybe the narrative will always be different for coaches like Thibodeau. Perhaps no matter how similar D’Antoni and Thibodeau are as head coaches, being known as the defensive-minded coach will always trump the offensive-minded coach in the national spotlight.

New York Knicks Coaching Roundup, Part 2

We’re closing in on a month since Steve Kerr to the Knicks watch first began, but the Knicks and Kerr have been unable to reach an agreement as of this moment.

As many expected, Kerr didn’t immediately take the Knicks job once it became available. Kerr is the hottest head coach candidate on the market, so he’s taking his time. The Golden State Warriors job is reportedly his if he wants it, and the Utah Jazz have also been rumored to be interested in him. The Warriors job is the best head coaching job available, but it doesn’t appear as though Kerr is heading to the Bay Area.

Rather than choosing a coaching job close to home, like Golden State or Utah, it appears working with Phil in New York is too compelling of an opportunity to pass up.

Marc Berman of the New York Post reported on May 9 that the Knicks are OK with Kerr completing his contractual obligations with TNT, but a deal could be finalized by May 12.

Speaking of contracts, Berman reports that money is the only obstacle remaining before Kerr signs on to become the next Knicks’ head coach.

“Kerr’s agent is Mike Tannenbaum, the former Jets general manager. It is believed Tannenbaum is seeking a five-year deal for Kerr, the same length as Jackson’s.

It is also believed Kerr is seeking a similar financial deal as Mike D’Antoni had when he inked a four-year, $24 million pact with the Knicks in 2008. Jackson and owner James Dolan might have to overpay to get Kerr to move across the country.”

So it looks like the original plan of bringing in Kerr to do Phil’s bidding is what’s ultimately going to happen.

Get excited, maybe?

Knicks Finalizing a Deal to Hire Steve Kerr

According to a new report today from ESPN’s NBA insider Marc Stein the New York Knicks are finalizing a deal to hire former Phoenix Suns General Manager and television analyst Steve Kerr to be their next head coach. The deal won’t reportedly be finalized until after the first round of the playoffs, but hey, progress!

Earlier in the month, I wrote about how the Knicks have handled their head coaching situation in what can only be described as in a head-scratching way. Phil has clearly wanted Kerr all along, and he reportedly got his man before others could. That’s the most important takeaway out of this, I think, because the Knicks weren’t going to be the only ones courting Kerr this summer.

It’s been reported by a number of insiders and analysts that Kerr was going to be a hot commodity this offseason for potential head coaching vacancies. Golden State, Houston and Oklahoma City were all potentially in play for Kerr if things went sour for any of these clubs in the first round. As of right now, the three teams are all in grave danger of getting ousted in the first round. All of these potential destinations are better jobs than the Knicks, but perhaps Phil sprinkled some zen herbs into Kerr’s latte over dinner in Brooklyn this past weekend to convince him to take the Knicks job before those other teams started pounding at his door.

We don’t know what kind of head coach Kerr is going to be, but we do know Phil has potentially snagged the hottest potential head coaching commodity before anybody else could. Now comes the hardest part — fixing the Knicks’ roster.

Let’s hope Phil is saving his best trick the best for last.

 

New York Knicks Coaching Today Roundup

You’ve probably heard the phrase “time is of the essence” at some point or another in your lifetime. Well, that’s really applicable to the current situation surrounding the New York Knicks head coaching job search confusion. The Knicks currently have a head coach. That man, Mike Woodson, apparently doesn’t even want to have a face-to-face with new team president Phil Jackson until he gets “clarity” on his job status. Although, one might expect he’d get clarity by having a sit-down with the guy who is ultimately going to make the final call. Does your head hurt yet? No? Well let’s continue!

According to a new New York Post report Steve Kerr “absolutely expects” to be offered the New York Knicks head coaching job. Again the Knicks still have a head coach. It’s been in the news for weeks that the Knicks would probably pursue Kerr based on his history with Phil and his reported desire to become an NBA head coach sooner rather than later.

The problem? The Knicks still haven’t made a decision on Woodson’s future with the team. Well, that’s reportedly going to be made early next week, not over the weekend according to Chris Broussard of ESPN.

It appears Woodson will remain in limbo at least for a couple of more days at the very least. So today’s report on Kerr expecting an offer from a team that currently has a head coach makes things a bit awkward. Sure, it’s entertaining to poke fun at Woodson, but with the way this situation is unfolding for him it’s hard not to feel bad for the guy. Not because I’d like to see him stick around another season, I don’t. But it does appear the wheels are already in motion to bring in Kerr as the next head coach behind the scenes before relieving Woodson of his duties, which may not be the most ethical business practice.

Kerr is probably going to be a highly sought after guy this summer; even with zero head coaching experience in the NBA. The Golden State Warriors have also been linked to Kerr, so perhaps the Knicks brass knows they have to act fast in hiring Kerr before a potentially better job like the Warriors opens up. It’s kind of eerie how similar the two situations are with Mark Jackson and Mike Woodson. There seems to be a disconnect with management and the head coach for both teams, which typically leads to the head coach getting the short end of the stick.

It’s probably naive to believe these kinds of backdoor negotiations don’t go on all the time, but that doesn’t make the situations any less awkward. Woodson refusing to meet with Phil and wanting clarity on his job-status while Kerr is openly saying he expects the Knicks to offer him the job just has an unseemly vibe even if, again, it’s probably the norm, even for less dysfunctional teams than the ‘Bockers.

In the end, what we can infer from all of these reports is Woodson is not returning to coach the Knicks next season.

It’s the end of an era. Let’s remember Woody at his best; looking confused and/or stone-faced.

Game Preview & Thread: Knicks @ Raptors

Months of suffering may finally be coming to an end; there are only four games left in the 2013-14 New York Knicks season. The Knicks have roughly a 2.4 percent chance of making the postseason. The Knicks obviously need this one, so to get a better idea of what the Knicks are up against tonight I brought in William Lou of Raptors Republic and Adam Francis of Raptors HQ.

Enjoy!

The Raptors have won seven of their last eight games coming into tonight. What’s been the key to their late-season surge?

William: When you factor in the relative ease of their schedule (Bucks, Sixers, Celtics x2, Magic), their recent success is right in line with their post-Gay performance. The Raptors did pick up a pair of impressive victories against the Pacers and Rockets without two of their most important players in Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson, but the Rockets were short three-fifths of their starting staff, and the Pacers apparently suck now.

That being said, in the absence of Lowry and Johnson, Greivis Vasquez and Jonas Valanciunas have stepped up their output on offense. Vasquez led the league in total assists last year with the Hornets (RIP), so his play isn’t a surprise, but Jonas is playing the best basketball of his career. Over the last 8 games, Valanciunas is averaging 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game on 66.7% shooting from the field. Granted, some of those numbers are inflated by a recent outing against the Sixers — where he set a career high in points with 26, while chipping in 12 rebounds — but he’s managed to maximize his production by simplifying the game: outwork, outrun, sprint, set legal screens, step to, and box-out.

Adam: I think the schedule in all honesty has a lot to do with the recent success as the Raptors haven’t been great in many of these latter games, especially on the defensive end. Toronto has beaten the Celtics (twice), the Bucks, the Magic and the 76ers during that span – not exactly Murderer’s Row – a short-handed Rockets’ squad, and the Pacers, who are in a slight nosedive. Against some of the league’s upper tier clubs, I fear the results would look a lot different.

That being said, the club has fought through injuries of their own and have a mental tenacity that’s been absent from this franchise in recent seasons. Even if the club gets down early, as has been the case in many of these recent contests, they almost always roar back late in games, something echoed by their fourth-quarter point differential mark, best in the league.

The Raptors are 10th in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season. What makes this team so good on both ends of the floor?

William: Toronto loves to use horns, followed by a pick-and-roll to set up their offense. Their sets usually start with Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas lining up on the elbows. Amir steps up to screen-and-roll with Lowry, while Jonas dives, and sets up a down-screen near the baseline. From there, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross usually weave in-and-out, curling around screens before spotting up along the perimeter. Ross’ favorite spot on the floor is the left-corner (where he shoots 47.1% on the season), and DeRozan likes to do his damage from the mid-range. If all that fails, Lowry and DeRozan reset, and try to attack from the perimeter. As a whole, the Raptors’ offense thrives in the half-court, and they struggle if goaded into playing a less structured, more up-tempo style.

Defensively, the Raptors don’t do anything particularly special. For the most part, they play a conservative style, they rarely use the big to trap in pick-and-roll situations, they run shooters off the three-point line, and they try to contest every shot at the rim. Amir Johnson is the lynchpin that makes the defense function, as he is a mini Tyson Chandler (circa 2012) of sorts. His length and mobility allows him to hedge hard on the perimeter, while also being able to recover and contest shots at the rim.

Adam: On offense, the club has a nice balance now with its starting group, able to score fairly efficiently in close thanks to guys like Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, stretch the floor thanks to the emergence of Terrence Ross, and even play in between thanks to Kyle Lowery’s forays into the paint, and DeMar DeRozan’s mid-range abilities. The Raptors do a nice job getting to the free-throw line (DeMar DeRozan is sixth in the NBA in free-throw attempts per game) and have excellent offensive rebounding at a number of positions, giving the club second-chance opportunities. All in all, their effectiveness on O I would say is thanks mostly to this nice balance of options.

Defensively, Dwane Casey has always had solid systems in place but this season, he’s got the personnel who are not only able to really execute on it, but also willing to do so, something that wasn’t always the case in the past. (See Bargnani, Andrea.) Now more than ever, Casey’s got length and athleticism at a number of spots, has more rim protection than he’s had during his Raptors’ tenure, and has a club that rarely gives up second-chance opportunities. (10th best rebounding rate in the league.)

Also. THE RAPTORS HAVE TYLER HANSBROUGH.

The Raptors starting starting five of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas has been incredibly dominant this season — +/- of +64 — while their original starting five that had Rudy Gay instead of Ross was -43. What changed?

William: The difference is the switch from Rudy Gay to Terrence Ross. Gay is tremendously talented, gifted with size, athleticism and quickness, but he simply couldn’t fit into the Raptors’ schemes. All the horns, and spot-ups described earlier didn’t take place when Gay was in Toronto. Rather, the Raptors would just hand the ball to Gay, and run isolation sets. For all his talents, Gay is no Carmelo Anthony. In his 18 games as a Raptor, Gay posted a true-shooting percentage of 46.8, and he used up 30.8% of Toronto’s possessions while he was on the court.

The Rudy Gay trade freed up swaths of possessions, and more importantly, it put the ball into the hands of Kyle Lowry. Rather than non-stop isolation, Lowry initiated pick-and-rolls, and as the trigger man, he was able to leverage his playmaking abilities into good looks for his teammates, and a career year for himself (just in time for free-agency!).

Adam: Simply put, Rudy Gay. Gay never meshed well with the bulk of the remaining quartet’s skillsets, especially on offence, rendering some redundant, and relegating others to much lesser roles than were likely deserved. The result was a fairly inefficient offense -not to mention one that was EXTREMELY painful to watch- often having possessions deteriorate into Rudy Gay going one-on-five up against an expiring shot clock.

The removal of Gay had a two pronged effect in that it not only got the ball moving again on offense, but also allowed players to fit more into their natural roles at both ends of the court. The team began creating easier and more efficient scoring opportunities, and I think as a result, overall offensive confidence was given a big shot in the arm, something you’ve seen in the individual games of players like Terrence Ross (Mr. 51 points) and DeMar DeRozan (All-Star!)

Which player plays a more pivotal role for the Raptors success : Lowry or DeRozan? Why?

William: In the abstract, Lowry is definitely a better player than DeRozan. He’s just as good of a scorer, a better passer, three-point shooter, rebounder, and most importantly, he’s a better defender. There’s a reason why Lowry ranks 8th in total Win Shares, ahead of the likes of Joakim Noah, Paul George, and even Carmelo Anthony.

However, the Raptors are incredibly thin at the wing, and they would struggle mightily to replicate DeRozan’s scoring output. DeRozan’s back-ups are 34-year-old John Salmons and the jumpshot-less Landry Fields, which in part explains why DeRozan has played the fourth most minutes in the NBA this season. Altogether, I’d say their contributions to this team are relatively equivalent, wherein Lowry is the better player, but DeRozan plays at a position of greater need.

Adam: In my opinion, it’s Kyle Lowry. While DeRozan has had a terrific year and has taken another big step forward in development, Lowry is the more complete basketball player, and the heart and soul of the club. On many an occasion he’s either willed his team to victory, or dragged them back from the dead kicking and screaming. Whether it’s providing a spark offensively, or taking a charge on D in a key moment, Lowry is the engine that makes this club go.

Who ultimately wins tonight and why?

William: I’m pegging the Raptors for an 8 point victory. I’m worried about Carmelo, as the Raptors have no one to guard him (expect John Salmons guarding Melo in the second quarter, and have yourselves a hearty chuckle, Knicks fans), but Toronto is the better team, and I expect Lowry to demolish his matchup with Raymond Felton. The Knicks also don’t defend the three-point line very effectively, so Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson should find themselves open more times than not.

Adam: While I’m tempted to say that the Raptors win this one based on both teams’ overall body of work, I actually think based on Toronto’s play of late, this could be a loss for the Raps. As noted, the Dinos’ defence has been suspect lately, and against a Knicks team that sits only a hair behind Toronto in terms of offensive efficiency on the season, this could be trouble.

So I think whichever team decides play a bit more defense than the other gets this W and tonight, my gut says it’s the Knicks, who are desperately trying to grab a final playoff spot in the East.