Commissioner McCallum

CNNSI.com ran a series of pieces about what their writers would do if they were granted for one day the commissioner’s job for each of the sports. The NFL article, written by Peter King, has some intriguing ideas. The first is to keep the current playoff structure even if the league expands, while another talks about making long field goals worth 4 points. King creates a more exciting television broadcast by using microphones on players and officials, and allows for players to wear whatever number they chose for a charitable fee. While I don’t agree with all of King’s proposals, they are all made in attempt to make the game better for the players & fans.

Unfortunately CNNSI.com?s NBA article disappoints greatly. Jack McCallum was given the task, and half of his suggestions are nonsense. One of them is to “police the anthem” (his words, not mine). McCallum would cut off the microphone if a performer?s song lasts more than 2 minutes. While I?m not a flag waving fervent patriot, I find having the national anthem cut in order to speed up a sports event un-patriotic. Additionally Jack wants to curtail the player introductions as well. So a pregame ceremony in Commissioner McCallum?s league would be half a national anthem and straight off to the tip without announcing the starters. Sounds fun!

McCallum also tackles the hard issues of special seating for the player’s wives, and front row seating for the press. I know how important these issues are, because every day I receive at least 10 emails from concerned KncikerBlogger.Net readers on each. Personally it’s tough watching the Knicks from my television without knowing if La Tasha Marbury and Peter Vecsey are comfortable seeing the game in person.

Although most of McCallum’s ideas are useless, he does get it right with two of them. The first is Jack’s idea of cheap admission and affordable concessions for retro nights. The league could call it fan appreciation nights and it would make for great public relations to have them coincide with nationally aired games. McCallum also hits a winner with his NBDL-NBA double headers, another fan friendly idea that would also gain some notoriety for the budding NBA minor league.

However if I were given the commissioner?s job for a day I think I could come up with better ideas than wondering where the press sits and how long the anthem lasts. The first thing I would do is change the playoff format. Let the divisions stay the way they are now in order to give the teams an easier travel schedule during the season. Nonetheless when the playoffs arrive, throw out the divisions and just use the conference standings to seed the playoff teams. This way we can eliminate the fiasco we had last year with the Nuggets getting a home field advantage in the first round and the Spurs facing the Mavs in the second round.

The game itself could use at least one major change as well. More than 2 years ago I said the NBA’s main weakness was:

“The last two minutes take too long… I can?t stand what a basketball game turns into for the last few minutes. To use a simile, a basketball game is like you being the only person driving on the highway until you get within a few blocks of your destination. At that point you hit the worst bumper-to-bumper traffic you?ve ever seen. A basketball game goes smoothly for about 45 minutes, and then grinds to a halt with fouls and time outs.”

My solution? Only one 30-second time out per team allowed in the final two minutes. While NBA coaches would hate the loss of control, anyone who has seen the last few minutes of an exciting NBA game grind to a halt would be thrilled. Let every close ending be like a 2 minute drill in the NFL. The losing team will have to bring the ball up the court rapidly instead of relying on a post time out ball reset. Players will have to think quickly on their feet about end game strategies like whether to foul, or whether to take a 2 or 3 point shot. Keeping the time outs to only 30 seconds will eliminate “we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsor” buzz kills right when the action gets thick. Too often the tension mounts at the end of the game only to be lost when a time out is called and you have to sit through a few commercials.

Given enough time (a preseason of testing and waiting a year before implementation), coaches will come up with strategies and get players to practice 2 minute drills just like the NFL does. NBA players will come to understand the nuances of the final minutes, and fans won’t have to wait through 15 minutes of watching the back end of the coach?s clipboard and time out commercials for the final 2 minutes of the game to play out.

The next thing I’d modify is the stat keeping. Over a year ago I wrote a two part series on five stats the NBA should keep. The most important of these are the defensive shooting stats, which would give us a better idea of how valuable players are on the other end of the court. Team and individual possessions would help with equalizing statistics due to pace. Meanwhile ?Charges Taken? and ?Possessions Saved? would help fans track the blue collar workers of the NBA.

Finally I would take a global outlook on the game. Baseball tried to copy soccer?s World Cup with little success, but it doesn’t mean the NBA shouldn’t try an international venture. The lack of interest in Baseball’s World Cup is due to the sport not having a truly international audience. Outside of a select few countries from the Americas and Eastern Asia, baseball isn’t very popular. On the other hand basketball has leagues all around the world, and a look at the number of countries represented by NBA players shows how truly global the game has become.

Since the Olympics have pretty much become the World Cup of Basketball, there is no reason to try and emulate that. Instead the NBA should try to emulate the UEFA Champions League, and attempt to enter the Euroleague basketball tournament. Putting up one of our best clubs against the best Europe has to offer would probably tip the scales back in our direction after the last disastrous showing of team USA.

While it sounds like an expensive proposition, I think the increase of NBA jerseys sold in Europe might help soften the financial blow. If basketball can continue to gain in global popularity, how important would it be for the U.S. to reclaim it’s dominance? Teams that regularly do well on the international stage would gain prestige and wealth. Imagine the Spurs or Mavs reaping the rewards that a Real Madrid or Manchester United does from being one of the top soccer clubs in the world. If the NBA is unable to compete in the Euroleague, then another possibility might be to send the league’s champs for 2 weeks in Europe to face off against the top 2 Euroleague teams. A European vacation seems like a great reward for winning the NBA?s biggest prize, and they should be allowed to bring their families along (the kids should be done with school by mid- June!) Now that?s priceless public relations. Doing this will keep the NBA as the world?s premiere basketball league.

Can Miami Get Anything Going?

With the game a few minutes from tip, a few thoughts…

Coming into the series I figured Mavs in six games. I never saw Shaq putting up gaudy numbers in this series, primarily because I felt Dallas?who almost always sends four or five players to the defensive boards?would keep him away from the offensive glass and make him play over the tops of their big guys. I also thought the pace would be too much for Miami. Still, Detroit looked invincible against Cleveland until the series went to Cleveland and the Cavs pushed it to seven games. So, [insert clich? or cautionary tale here] in a seven game series.

Is there anything Miami can do? Pat Riley?s pat answer is always to play better defense and have better offensive execution. In one respect this is certainly correct. Still, if Riley is to make a go of it in this series he must change a few things. Overall, Miami must find a way to get some easy scores.

Pick up the pace. In today?s New York Sun Martin Johnson gives Miami similar advice, going against conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom coming into the series says that Miami must play at a slow pace. Well, obviously Miami must limit Dallas? fast break points. But conventional wisdom, as is often the case, throws out the baby with the bathwater. The Heat loses too much trying to be too deliberate. First, just because Miami is deliberate doesn?t mean the Mavs will be. Thus far, when Miami has been deliberate they?re the only team on the floor playing that way. Dallas can play briskly in their halfcourt sets without losing much efficiency. They shot 49.4 eFG% during the regular season when shooting between 11 and 15 seconds (a quick shot, but not a fast break), which is right about their overall eFG (49.5%). So they aren?t going to roll over and expose belly unless maybe the game slows to an absolute crawl, which seems beyond Miami?s capacity. Second, the Heat plays well offensively when they execute their halfcourt sets briskly, shooting even better than Dallas (51%) between 11 and 15 seconds. Unfortunately, Miami does not defend as well under these circumstances (48.2%) as they do overall (47.8%). They rightly fear getting into a track meet with Dallas but it appears as if this series will be played in the high 80s to mid 90s unless Dallas falls apart. So Miami has to score.

Get Shaq on the move. Although Shaq may be the ?most dominant force evah!? he is not right now. Even throwing out his game two, the difference between 2006 Shaq and even 2004 Shaq is the absence of 2-3 easy dunks from beating his man up the floor and another 2-3 easy putback dunks on offensive rebounds. Right now, a halfcourt offense that begins with Shaq holding the ball away from the double team waiting for cutters plays right into Dallas? hands. At minimum, at least some of Miami?s halfcourt sets should concentrate on getting Wade into the lane, allowing Shaq to rebound on the weakside. Additionally, a quicker pace might allow Miami to get the ball to Shaq before the defense is set and before the double team can arrive.

Use the bench. Riley is only using three bench players currently (Posey, Payton, and Mourning). Gary Payton has been just plain bad. James Posey shot well in game two but his propensity for committing fouls like Kurt Thomas circa 2003, where he hammers a guy for no reason and then just stares blankly, has limited his effectiveness. Riley needs to consider bringing players off the bench that can score, particularly with perimeter shooting, at least at the ends of quarters. Michael Doleac and Jason Kapono could both be useful in limited duty.

Round 2 Odds & A Quickie

Before I get to the odds, during the Spurs-Mavs game today the announcers were talking about the Suns-Clippers series. Dufus-philosopher Bill Walton’s two sentence analysis of the Suns-Clippers series went something to the effect of Phoenix “has found it’s offense” and mentioned the name of “Barbosa, Diaw, & Nash”. That prompted me to do 2 things. The first was to seek out my local bookmaker and consider putting every spare cent I have on the Clippers. (Luckily for Ms. KnickerBlogger, I’m not a gambler).

The second was to officially proclaim Shawn Marion as the NBA’s most underrated player. According to my stat page, he’s 9th overall in PER, two places ahead of his teammate-MVP. Yet Steve Nash wins back-to-back MVP awards while Marion gets a single 5th place vote. “The Matrix” averaged 18 points on 47% shooting (eFG), 9.4 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks in the first round of the playoffs. He had double digit points in every game, 20 points or more in 4 games (and scored 19 in another), and 3 double-doubles. And poor Shawn is forgotten on national tv.

Funny thing is, if I were forced to pick an upset it would be the Suns. Just because it took them 6.5 games to dispense with the Lakers, while the Clippers bounced out the Nuggets in 5 despite “earning” the road field advantage. However according to the odds based on the season’s records, it’s the Heat and Spurs that are most likely to be upset. Prior to creating the below chart, I wouldn’t have thought the Spurs or Heat to be vulnerable.

San Antonio has won 2 of the last 3 championships and finished this year with the best record in the West, so you wouldn’t imagine them to be in trouble in the second round. However this odd playoff format has pitted them against the second best team in the West. The winner of this series should have an easier time in the next round, against an inferior opponent. Meanwhile a 59 game season from Shaq left the Heat with “only” a .634 winning percentage, close to the Nets .598. So maybe New Jersey doesn’t have as good a chance as the chart below would indicate. On the other hand, if Dwayne Wade takes another hard tumble or any part of Shaq acts up, then the Nets will have a good chance to advance to the East Conference Finals. So in a way, maybe the regular season takes into account the Heat’s fragility, and hence is a true representation of New Jersey’s odds.

  One Game Home Game 5 Game 7 Game 5 Games (modified for home field) 7 Games (modified for home field)
Spurs 54.8% 64.5% 58.9% 60.4% 61.2% 63.0%
Pistons 69.4% 77.3% 82.9% 86.6% 83.6% 87.3%
Heat 53.8% 63.6% 57.1% 58.3% 59.4% 61.0%
Suns 59.0% 68.4% 66.5% 69.1% 68.3% 71.1%

2006 Round 1: Odds & Rants

Only a few weeks ago the NCAA had one of it’s most exciting tournaments in recent history. There were plenty of upsets, as few people expected teams like Bradley and Wichita State to make the Sweet 16, and even fewer had George Mason getting to the Final Four. Even the one-sided championship game had enough acrobatics to keep viewers involved. For those that followed the NCAA closely, the opening round of the NBA Playoffs will seem like having War & Peace read aloud in Klingon: too long and quite unnecessary.

Long time readers of KnickerBlogger.Net know that I’m not a big fan of the first round of the playoffs. Mathematically most of the teams don’t have a fair chance of winning the first round. There is a well known equation that given a season’s winning percentages, you can predict the chance of any team winning a single game. If Milwaukee (.488 winning % on the season) played Detroit (.780) in a single game, they have a 21.2% chance of winning that game. Poor odds for the Cunningham family, but certainly doable. However, if the Bucks have to win 3 out of 5 games those odds drop to 6.7%. Make it 4 of 7 games, and it plummets further to 4.1%. All the above calculations were made using a neutral court. Factor in home court advantage, and well, the Bucks have already jumped the shark on their 2006 season.

Obviously I cherry-picked my example, as Detroit has the best chance of winning their 7 game series (96.1%). However the Spurs aren’t that far behind with a 92.4% chance. Despite the Grizzlies having the highest win% of all the road teams, their opponents, the Mavericks, are the third most likely to win at 80.8%. Granted not all the series are this lopsided. The second worst matchup is the Nets, but they still have a robust 72.6% chance of winning. If the Nets-Pacers played NCAA style, one game in a neutral arena, the Nets would only win 59.8% of the time.

It’s obvious that the collegiate style of tournament play would make for a more intense game, but unfortunately the league runs on money. Two weeks of television commercial revenue, ticket sales, and concessions mean more to the league owners than the integrity of the playoffs. As if the too long playoff system isn’t enough, the NBA has given critics another reason to ridicule the league. By David’s Sternpidity, the West’s 7th best team will get a home round advantage for the first round against the 6th best team. Had the NBA kept the 5 game series, the Nuggets would have about the same odds as winning one game in a neutral court (46.4%) as they would 5 with 3 games at home (46.1%). But the NBA’s expansion of the first round into 7 games, drops their chances down to 45.5%.

Outside of the Nuggets & Clippers, fans of the Wizards, Pacers, and Lakers have a reasonable chance of an upset. Meanwhile the rest of the games are not likely to be meaningful unless a home team suffers an injury to an integral player. The real excitement of the NBA playoffs come in the later rounds, where the difference between the teams are less pronounced, and the stakes are higher.

TEAM
One Game
(neutral field)
One Game
(home game)
5 Game
(neutral field)
7 Game
(neutral field)

5 Games
(modified for home field)*

7 Games
(modified for home field)*
Pistons
78.8%
84.8%
93.3%
95.9%
93.4%
96.1%
Heat
63.4%
72.2%
73.9%
77.3%
75.3%
78.7%
Nets
59.8%
69.1%
67.9%
70.6%
69.6%
72.6%
Cavs
59.9%
69.1%
68.0%
70.7%
69.7%
72.6%
Spurs
74.1%
81.1%
88.6%
92.0%
89.0%
92.4%
Suns
61.4%
70.4%
70.6%
73.6%
72.1%
75.3%
Nuggets
46.4%
56.5%
43.2%
42.1%
46.1%
45.5%
Mavs
64.7%
73.4%
76.1%
79.6%
77.3%
80.8%

Note: Odds “modified for home team” are approximated using the binomial formula with the home team odds as (4*chance of winning game at home + 3*chance of winning game away)/7.

2006 Preseason – Mavs 104 Knicks 102

Although the Knicks played the Nets in Connecticut on Saturday night, yesterday’s game against the Mavs in the Garden was their first televised preseason game of 2006. I could do a statistical analysis of the Net game, but as preseason games go it’s hard to determine what was accomplished against the starters and what was done against New Jersey’s end of the bench. So I’ll give my impressions of some of the Knicks from Sunday’s game instead.

David Lee
With all the hoopla over Frye and Robinson, Lee has been the lost Knicks rookie. Sunday evening he was the most impressive of the bunch. The initial reports of Lee are a blue collar type, and I really didn’t see it. The Knicks power forward seemed more polished than scrappy. Lee didn’t impress me with either his rebounding or his defense. Although on defense his assignment for most of the night was Nowitzki.

Where Lee did impress was with his ability around the hoop especially driving inside. He has a nice handle for a big man, and seems to be able to finish with either hand. Although he didn’t finish as often as I would have liked (5-12), he led all players with 11 free throw attempts. In the early fourth quarter, Lee was nimble enough to keep up with Robinson on the break & finish with a resounding dunk.

Nate Robinson
I saw a handful of Nate’s games both in the Final Four and in Summer League, and that player was absent tonight. It might have just been an off night for Robinson, but the Mavericks were able to neutralize Nate in the paint. Most of Robinson’s forays to the hoop ended up with a shot block or a turnover. In the first half he looked totally outmatched, but he did pick it up in the second half. Nate used his speed to earn a few steals and push the ball upcourt for some transition buckets. One thing to watch for will be if he will be able to use his leaping ability at this level.

Channing Frye
On one play Frye did a Marcus Camby impersonation trying to put back a missed shot, but he’s not as athletic as the former Knicks’ center. Channing only played for 19 minutes, and the only other thing that I recall is that he had a nice stroke from outside.

Eddy Curry
At times Curry looked impressive on the offensive end, but other times he seemed to be sleepwalking. He scored on a nice pass from Penny Hardaway, and looks to have extremely soft hands. On the other hand he turned the ball over 4 times, and a few were offensive fouls. It would have been nice to see a full effort from Curry, but it’s still only preseason.

Jamal Crawford
Crawford looked good very early in the game as the Knicks point guard. Unfortunately a few of his bad habits crept back as he jacked up a few shots that the chucker who plays at your neighborhood park would have passed up on. Forcing Jamal to run the point and distribute the ball may curb his wild shooting habits.

Larry Brown
How intense is this guy? He got T’d up on a non-shooting defensive foul against David Lee.

Jackie Butler
Butler had a quiet first half. He didn’t do anything to overly impress, but he didn’t do anything stupid that you would expect from a 20 year old out of high school with 5 minutes of NBA experience. That in it of itself is a big accomplishment. I remember Butler blocking a shot, and looking at the stat sheet it was the only one the Knicks had all night.

Penny Hardaway
When Penny started the game, my jaw almost hit the floor. Could it be that last year’s prodigal son will find a role as Brown’s perimeter defender?

The New York Knicks: What Can Brown Do For Them?

NBA training camps are now clearly on the horizon and the off-season is drawing rapidly to an anti-climatic close. Now seems a good time to chime in with a few words about the state of our beloved Knickerbockers heading into the 2005-2006 campaign. For brevity?s sake I?ll try to focus my comments on a few key questions, leaving the rest for another day.

Question 1: What exactly is the plan?

To its credit the Knick?s front office finally began to use the word rebuilding this off-season, and many a die-hard fan has longed to hear it. Unfortunately the Knick brain trust, such that it is, has taken far too long to pass through its ?we?re-one-more-player-away? denial phase since the magical run of 1999 ended on Avery Johnson?s baseline jumper. The subsequent years of delusional decision making have taken their toll. The team has fallen down and lost its way. Though there?s not much reason for optimism Knick fans still have hope, especially now that the team has taken the first step; admitting that it needs to rebuild.

So what?s next, Zeke? The closest thing to a plan coming out of Madison Square Garden has been Isiah?s ?younger and more athletic? mantra; really more a slogan than a discernable strategy. Well the Knicks have?for the most part?managed to lower the age and boost the athleticism during Isiah?s tenure. The Knicks will break camp with at most three players above age 30 (Hardaway, Houston, and Malik Rose), none of whom will be counted on for major contributions.

Youth and athleticism are great to have, but not at the cost of fiscal sanity. That little detail has unfortunately continued to elude the Knick brain trust? such that it is. Fortunately, as John Hollinger notes in a recent N.Y. Sun (paid registration required) article, the 100% luxury tax bracket has forced many teams to go yea verily and overspend no more…

That spend-happy system was workable because, as Cuban put it, ?When I first got to the Mavs, there was no luxury tax, revenues from TV and the league went up every year, as did the salary cap.? [?] But once the previous collective bargaining agreement was passed five years ago, the landscape changed. Thanks to a lockout, a recession, and Michael Jordan’s retirement, the salary cap stopped rising every year. As a result, teams increasingly found themselves hemmed in by long-term contracts they thought would be eroded by the league’s history of salary-cap inflation. [?] One hopes the Knicks can learn a lesson from Dallas. With some help from the tax amnesty rule, the Mavs were able to stay competitive while lightening an onerous salary situation. Likewise, New York could greatly improve its payroll situation. If Houston retires and Isiah Thomas can resist the urge to trade Penny Hardaway or Tim Thomas for an even worse contract [emphasis mine], New York will sidestep the luxury tax in 2006-07.

Certainly, avoiding the tax or even being under the cap provides no guarantee that a franchise will suddenly become a hot free agent destination (Salt Lake City never has been, never will be). And at times, we fantasy GMs (I count myself among them) can be a more than a little unsympathetic to the realities of managing the cap in a market with real risk, where franchise players largely stay put and second tier talent is systematically overvalued. However, as any Knick fan can attest, salary cap hell is a uniquely unpleasant place in the NBA. Escaping it?or at least not extending one?s stay there?has to become a much bigger priority in the front office, or at least more apparent in its actions. When I hear credible rumors about New York?s interest in bloated contracts like Antoine Walker?s and Eric Snow?s I start breaking out in hives.

Question 2: What style will this team play under Brown?

Youth and athleticism is often a euphemism for ?inexperienced? and ?unskilled? unless it translates into scores, stops, boards, and ultimately wins. Conventional wisdom suggests that speeding up the pace can minimize the inexperience and lack of skill that comes hand-in-glove with youth. Certainly, one would expect Ariza, Crawford, Frye, and Robinson to excel in an uptempo game. Presumably, Thomas acquired these athletes precisely to play a running style. But is Larry Brown willing to coach an uptempo style? Well, before dismissing the possibility out of hand consider that Brown, in his plaid-jacketed Denver days, coached a pace far above league average. Of course he had David Thompson, Dan Issel, and Bobby Jones on the roster. But, he also quickened the Clipper?s pace in his second season in LA with Mark Jackson, Ron Harper, and Danny Manning. In fact, Brown?s teams by my count have played at or above league pace 11 times in his 28 NBA seasons. So it?s not inconceivable that Brown could speed this team up to suit its personnel. I certainly wouldn?t get my hopes up though. Only two Brown-coached teams since 1994 (his first season in Indiana) have played at or above league pace.

History suggests that Brown won?t have much of a discernable impact on the offense. Though much ink has been spilled over Stephon Marbury?s impending move to shooting guard the switch may have little or no impact on offensive efficiency if the Knicks don?t find a reliable post scorer that can to the FT line. (Or at least find more minutes for the best post player currently on the roster.) Last season?s Knicks were middle of the pack offensively at right about league average efficiency (103 vs. 103.1 league average). Not much that has happened this off-season suggests to me that the Knicks will exceed +2 or 3 of that output this season.

It is much easier to see where Brown will focus his efforts to improve the defense. And, as the KB points out, it?s a fairly safe bet that he will. Last season?s Knicks continued a pattern of wretched defense that has been the norm since JVG said no mas. They allowed opponents an efficiency score of 106.5 (4th worst in the league). But, this off-season key veterans (i.e., Marbury and Thomas) have at least given public lip service to Brown?s gospel of shutting down dribble penetration and helping on defense. They have made themselves accountable in a way that they have not up until now. In itself that won?t make them good defenders but a prerequisite to good team defense is a team culture that expects players to commit to it. I don?t think it?s unreasonable to project a 3-5 point improvement in defensive efficiency, which should lift the Knicks to the middle of the pack. If the Knicks can stay around league average offensively and improve to league average defensively they will challenge to win the Atlantic. (Why this is the sad but true state of the Atlantic Division is for another blog entry on another day.)

Question 3: Can Marbury and Brown survive?

I don?t anticipate as much trouble as many. The two have made their quid pro quo fairly public, and both are savvy enough not to have done that unless they really want things to work out. So a big part of me thinks both are committed to making the relationship work. Marbury will retain his freedom in the offense under Brown, perhaps by moving to the shooting guard. Irrespective of whether that happens officially Brown has been very clear that he wants Steph to score. For Steph?s part he has essentially promised to commit do what Brown asks of him by saying that Brown made him better during the Olympics. Whether this is mere lip service on Steph?s part remains to be seen but Larry Brown is probably the first coach in his career with the power to hold him accountable. There?s almost no way the public and the press will take Marbury?s side in a dispute about his defensive intensity. I suspect the rubber will meet the road early in the season on a night when Steph is playing with high effort defensively, getting lit up, but also not scoring because Brown wants him to set up his teammates. The Knicks lose by 3 points. How both react will go a long way toward determining what their relationship can be.

In truth, I predict a much rockier relationship between Brown and Jamal Crawford should Crawford remain in New York. Would it surprise anyone if Houston and Ariza split minutes at the SG ahead of Crawford? It will be difficult for Crawford if he finds himself out of the rotation. His game hasn?t matured much since he entered the league. He offers nothing defensively, and despite his obvious talent he?s not an especially good offensive player. I see Brown wanting to re-make Crawford?s game along the lines of Richard Hamilton; coming off picks, less ball-handling, fewer threes. I?ve read nothing at this point to suggest that Crawford isn?t already thinking about the next stop now that Nate Robinson has signed and Houston remains on the roster.

Looking at the 2005 NBA Draft (Part III)

[This entry is brought to you by Knickerblogger.net’s Director of College Scouting, Dave Crockett. As always, I can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

In part two I evaluated the NBA draft for Eastern Conference teams based on their strategy, either best player available or need/fit. Now, let?s take a look at the Western Conference teams. To review briefly, I will review each team?s draft based on its apparent strategy and categorize it as ?Accept,? ?Revise and resubmit,? or ?Reject.? Players are listed by overall selection number, name, height (with shoes), wingspan (if available), weight (lbs.), position, and school.

Western Conference

Dallas Mavericks

* No selections in this draft

Denver Nuggets

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and Resubmit (minor changes)

20. Julius Hodge (6-7, 7-0-1/2, 202.2#), G, N. Carolina State

27. Linas Kleiza (6-8, NA, 235#), F, Missouri?

35. Ricky Sanchez (6-11, NA, 215#), SF, IMG Academy JC (FL) ?

55. Axel Herville (6-9, NA, 230#), PF, Spain

? Denver acquired the rights to F Linas Klieza (the 27th overall selection) and F Ricky Sanchez (the 35th overall selection) for the rights to G Jarrett Jack (the 22nd overall selection).

Denver?s top priority is a (big) scoring guard, preferably one with good range. However, a reasonably deep free agent class coupled with veterans facing their impending release via the new ?amnesty? provision (e.g., Allan Houston and Michael Finley) in the CBA and the Nuggets could wind up with a quality 2nd tier free agent SG for their MLE, or perhaps even just part of it. Given this I generally like what Denver did in the draft. Hodge was asked to carry a lot of dead weight this season at N.C. State. He was asked to create offense for others and to score. Having so much asked of him affected his offense in my opinion. He is a better shooter than his final season indicated. He is a superb ball handler, a leader, very adept at getting others involved, and capable of putting a team on his skinny little shoulders at times as we saw against UConn in the NCAA tournament. Linas Kleiza has nice versatility. He?s tough, a physical rebounder with some range on his shot. However, I rated Wayne Simien and David Lee higher. Of course, the fact that Kleiza can develop overseas without costing the Nuggets any money may have played a role in his selection.

Golden State Warriors

* Strategy: Need/Best Player Available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (minor changes)

9. Ike Diogu (6-8, 7-3-1/2, 255.4#), PF, Arizona State

40. Monta Ellis (6-3-1/4, 6-2-3/4, 176.6#), G, Lanier HS (MS)

42. Chris Taft (6-9-1/2, 7-1-3/4, 261.0#), PF, Pittsburgh

It appears that Golden State was poised to take the best power forward available, whether Channing Frye, Villanueva, or Diogu. During the leadup to the draft it became more and more difficult to find people who think Diogu won?t be able to translate his game to the NBA. For all the talk about Diogu being undersized he measured only one-half inch shorter in shoes than Sean May and has a broader wingspan by more than two inches. Diogu will be able to play power forward in the league. What?s hard to miss about Diogu is that he takes the punishment and lives at the free throw line, where he?s a good free throw shooter. The downside of picking Diogu is that he scores from some of the same areas on the floor as Troy Murphy. Neither player can reasonably be switched to small forward so it is unlikely they can play together. In the second round they picked one-time lottery projection Chris Taft. While the tales of his attitude problems have been well chronicled from a pure basketball standpoint it was the tape measure as much as anything that did him in. He measured at less than 6-10, and there is little about his game to suggest he can move out on the floor at all.

Houston Rockets

* Strategy: Best player available/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

24. Luther Head (6-3, 6-5-1/4, 178.8#), G, Illinois

This was a guy I?d hoped would fall to New York at #30. So I like Head. He played his ass off in Chicago. Though his ability to run the point has been called into question his defense and shooting are more than solid, which is really what matters to Houston since McGrady often dominates the ball. My problem with this pick is that the team has so little depth at small forward or power forward. McGrady is the only small forward currently under contract and Juwon Howard, who has been breaking down rapidly, is backed up by Clarence Weatherspoon and Vin Baker. Luther Head is somewhat similar to their other combo guards (Bob Sura and David Wesley). Houston may have rated Head higher on their draft board than Wayne Simien (probably because of Simien?s shoulder problems) but they may regret passing on him.

L.A. Clippers

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Reject

12. Yaroslav Korolev (6-9, NA, 215#), SF, Russia

32. Daniel Ewing (6-3, NA, 185#), PG, Duke

Back when the Dallas Mavs traded the draft rights to Robert ?Tractor? Traylor to Milwaukee for the rights to Dirk Nowitski I rated it as one of the most lopsided deals in NBA history. Of course at the time I thought Milwaukee was getting the better end of the deal. So I?ve learned not to overreact to such deals. This kid may turn out to be a player. But this pick was bogus; a classic case of bidding against yourself. Korolev stayed in the draft based solely on an early promise from the Clips. It?s safe to assume that the Clippers will once again be moribund next season, especially if Bobby Simmons walks. Korolev?s Russian team was not likely to play him much more next season, if at all. So in all likelihood he?d be on the board next season around the same spot, but after another piece to the puzzle had already been put in place for a year. I know the official story is that Mike Dunleavy fell in love with this kid but I smell Donald Sterling here. In round 2 the Clips were probably hoping that either Nate Robinson or Salim Stoudamire would fall to them. No such luck. Still, Ewing should be a solid role player/part time starter for them.

L.A. Lakers

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

10. Andrew Bynum (7-0, NA, 300#), C, St. Joeseph?s HS (NJ)

37. Rony Turiaf (6-9-1/4, 7-1-1/2, 237.8#), PF, Gonzaga

39. Von Wafer (6-5, NA, 210#), SG, Florida State

I?m in the clear minority of people who felt like the Lakers, when forced to choose between Shaq and Kobe, had to keep Kobe and trade the Big Aristotle. However, I never liked the deal they made for Shaq. They created a glut of small forwards bigger than the one on Team USA this summer. Kobe, Lamar Odom (even if disguised as a PF), Caron Butler, Devean George, Jumain Jones, Luke Walton, and Tony Bobbitt all play small forward. The Shaq trade influenced what the Lakers did in this draft. Instead of drafting a player to help them in the top ten they drafted a player to help someone else. I think Bynum?s days with the Lakers will be relatively short; maybe this summer, maybe trade deadline, next summer tops. He is the pretty bow to tie around a package that includes one or more of the small forwards for a point guard or center who can help them in the next 2 years. Turiaf should take Brian Grant?s place in the rotation once he is released. Wafer is a scorer to bring off the bench.

Memphis Grizzlies

* Strategy: Best player available/fit

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

19. Hakim Warrick (6-8-1/2, 7-2, 215#), PF, Syracuse

Given the impending roster fluctuation in Memphis it?s hard to argue with West taking the ?best player.? The one real downside to Warrick is that he?s a ?tweener, which means he cannot play for every team. But Memphis features a number of ?tweeners, including G/F Shane Battier, G/F James Posey, SF/PF Brian Cardinal and PF/C Pau Gasol. So clearly that?s not a problem for Jerry West. The open floor style they favor also emphasizes Warrick?s athleticism. Also, much like with the slender Gasol I don?t think the Grizzlies will shy away from posting Warrick in certain matchups. The other potential direction West might have gone would have been for a point guard, like Jarrett Jack, given that Jason Williams and/or Earl Watson won?t be back. I know they like Antonio Burks but he?s still more of a combo guard.

Minnesota Timberwolves

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

14. Rashad McCants (6-4, 6-10-3/4, 201), SG, N. Carolina

47. Bracey Wright (6-2-1/2, 6-10, 186.8), G, Indiana

ESPN?s Jay Bilas, who is usually not a taker of pot-shots said, ?If I had a nickel for every time Rashad McCants really got down and guarded somebody I?d have a nickel.? Now that is being called out, and the sad part is that even Tar Heel fans must admit that this is true. McCants is a talented scorer who has been taken out of games (e.g., @ Wake Forest and vs. Illinois), as all scorers are occasionally, but I have yet to see him make a significant contribution with any other part of his game. I have a difficult time with this pick for Minnesota because McHale & Co. took a player whose sole contribution is his scoring over Granger and Wright who score and defend. McCants doesn?t rebound. He doesn?t handle the ball. He doesn?t pass. And prolonged exposure to defense appears to produce in him something similar to anaphylactic shock. The Wolves, facing the likely departure of Sprewell and great uncertainty about Fred Hoiberg’s health (good luck to The Mayor of Ames, Iowa), certainly need a wing player but they also need someone apart from Garnett who plays both ends. Bracey Wright is a nice fit considering that he is something of a shoot-first point guard with passing skills, similar to Sam Cassell.

New Orleans Hornets

* Strategy: Best player available/Need

* Review: Accept

4. Chris Paul (6-1, 6-4-1/4, 178#), PG, Wake Forest

33. Brandon Bass (6-7-1/4, 7-2-1/2, 246#), PF, LSU

Chris Paul was perhaps the most efficient offensive player in the nation this past season. He shot a high percentage (52.3% efg, 1.54 points per shot), created for teammates (2.4 to 1 assist to turnover), and lived at the free throw line (5.8 attempts per game @ 83%). There is little to be disappointed with in his sophomore season, well, other than socking Julius Hodge below the belt and getting bumped early in the NCAAs. (Wake simply didn?t play enough defense to make a deep run in the tournament. They were the classic upset-prone high-seed.) Paul was absolutely the right move for New Orleans. I like the selection of Brandon Bass in the second round too. Bass is a multi-talented player who simply wasn?t getting coached at LSU. Though he measures only 6-7 he has shoulders right out of the Karl Malone catalog, long arms, and an expanding game. This kid will always be a rebounder but has the potential to be much more, particularly on a team with steady point guard play that likes to run.

Phoenix Suns

* Strategy: Clear cap space

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

54. Dijon Thompson (6-8, 6-9-3/4, 195.8#), G/F, UCLA?

Cash??

? Phoenix acquired F Kurt Thomas and G/F Dijon Thompson (the 54th overall selection) from the New York Knicks for G/F Quentin Richardson and G Nate Robinson (the 21st overall selection).

?? Phoenix traded the rights to C Marcin Gortat (the 57th overall selection) to the Orlando Magic for cash.

Phoenix?s primary interest was in getting Kurt Thomas and clearing cap space to re-sign Joe Johnson and Steven Hunter. Dijon Thompson is a talented offensive player, especially in the mid-range area. He?s not such a threat from long range (which makes me wonder why everyone lists him as a guard when he played the SF almost exclusively at UCLA). Even if Phoenix does re-sign Joe Johnson the team would be remiss if it did not explore other options at the backup point guard.

Portland Trailblazers

* Strategy: Best player available/need

* Review: Revise and resubmit

6. Martell Webster (6-7-1/2, 6-11, 229.6#), SG, Seattle Prep HS (WA)

22. Jarrett Jack (6-3-1/2, 6-7-1/2, 197.6#), PG, Georgia Tech?

? Portland acquired the rights to G Jarrett Jack (the 22nd overall selection) from the Denver Nuggets for the rights to F Linas Klieza (the 27th overall selection) and F Ricky Sanchez (the 35th overall selection).

Webster and Gerald Green will always be linked as the last ?pre-age restriction? class. The two will always be compared to each other, even apart from the other high schoolers chosen in this draft; a bit like LeBron and Carmello but rarely LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Unlike Green Webster is a big (i.e., chunky) kid. I don?t know that he?s in NBA caliber condition but he is thick. I like the trade for Jack, who can play some shooting guard, and really helps shore up the defense.

Sacramento Kings

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Accept

23. Francisco Garcia (6-7, 6-10-3/4, 189.6#), SG, Louisville

Garcia won?t help the Kings get key stops but he will add depth and another shooter. Make no mistake about it though the window has closed on that group. They?re 7th or 8th seed material for the foreseeable future. If they?re smart they?ll begin moving pieces (e.g., Brad Miller) that they can get value for now.

San Antonio Spurs

* Strategy: Clear cap space

* Review: Accept

28. Ian Mahinmi (6-10, NA, 230#), PF, France

You have to give the Spurs the benefit of the doubt when it comes to international talent. They scout overseas more extensively than any other team. The Spurs don?t really need anything out of this draft so it hardly surprises that they would pick a player who can be stashed overseas to develop. Most of their key players are in their primes and locked up long-term. So in one sense there?s no sense in paying first round scratch to a kid who is not going to contribute in the foreseeable future when they could use that money to keep Horry and/or Glen Robinson. Mahinmi is only 18 and it may be 2-3 seasons before he is ready to play in the NBA.

Seattle Supersonics

* Strategy: Best player available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with minor changes)

25. Johan Petro (7-1, NA, 250), C, France

38. Mikael Gelabale (6-7, NA, 210), SF, France

Seattle went big and young in last year?s draft, taking Robert Swift. They follow it up with the athletic Petro from France. He is said to be very athletic, a skilled shot-blocker, but raw. Seattle could lose both Jerome James (especially if Nate McMillan does not return) and Vitale Potapenko, robbing them of their size. It seems unlikely that either Swift or Petro is ready to contribute in the upcoming season should Seattle?s current centers walk. Nonetheless, given what was available (primarily power forwards) and persistent rumors that the team is unhappy with Swift?s progress Seattle likely made lemonade out of lemons. Much like Damien Wilkins last year, Gelabale is an athlete who?ll probably be invited to summer league. While it appears Seattle is poised to re-sign Ray Allen the odds of re-signing Antonio Daniels seem a bit lower. Seattle might have considered using that second round pick to take a flyer on a backup point guard (e.g., Alex Acker or John Gilchrist)

Utah Jazz

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with minor changes)

3. Deron Williams (6-2-3/4, 6-6-1/4, 202.4#), PG, Illinois

34. C.J. Miles (6-6, NA, 207), SG, Skyline HS (TX)

51. Robert Whaley (6-9, 7-2, 269.4#), C, Walsh

I love Deron Williams, particularly in Jerry Sloan?s system. He?s the right player for what they do. He also plays defense, which will allow him to stay on the floor for Sloan. (Defense is something Chris Paul doesn?t do; at least not yet.) However, I?m not in love with anything Utah did in the second round. Bad teams have to make second round picks pay dividends. C.J. Miles apparently never hired an agent and may honor his letter of intent to attend Texas; much like Vashon Lenard went through the draft but stayed in school years ago. If Utah was going to take a flyer on a high school kid why not take Andray Blatche, the 6-11 high school kid from CT at 34 then Dijon Thompson from UCLA at 51? Robert Whaley played his tail off in Chicago but seems more of a priority free agent.