Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Eve of Free Agency

Tomorrow is the start of NHL Free Agency (it should also be the start of NBA Free Agency, but they will begin a lockout that will wipe out the 2011-12 season instead). As we go into the signing period, here's some thoughts I have on the goings on.

-The Brad Richards Sweepstakes is very unique; you have the best FA forward on the market, and it's not even close. You would think that everyone would want the guy. Instead, at least in the case of the Rangers and the Leafs, no one seems to want him aside from the teams themselves. The reason is clear; Rangers and Leafs fans are afraid that either Brian Burke or Glen Sather will spend like a drunken sailor on the guy, and they're right. I guess I must get used to the fact that Richards will be a Ranger on Friday after an 8 year/$56 million contract.

-Everyone can talk about the Islanders putting it all together all they want; the fact is, as long as a guy like Christian Ehrhoff leaves in no uncertain terms that he won't play there, they aren't a threat, just a nuisance (if you're a Rangers fan).

-Meanwhile, the Sabres take the rights to Ehrhoff and get him signed, for 10 years/$40 million contract. Once again, the Terry Pegula era is completely different than before and now Buffalo will spend like everyone else on July 1.

-No new news on where Jaromir Jagr will sign, whether Pittsburgh, Detroit, Montreal. JagrWatch '11 continues.

-If the Flyers sign Brad Richards, they will officially have given up their future. Claude Giroux and James vanRiemsdyk will both be up for raises in a few years and they're ability to sign both guys with Chris Pronger, Ilya Bryzgalov and Richards will handcuff them.

-Adrian Dater is absolutely right, I'd be shocked if Tomas Vokoun isn't wearing an Avs sweater by Monday.

-So Tomas Kopecky signs for $12 million/4 years and Jonathan Ericsson signs for $9.75 million/3 years. This only makes me fear the Ryan Callahan/Brandon Dubinsky negotiations even more, especially if someone swoops in with an offer sheet.

-Dale Tallon's mistakes always seem to repeated. This week we saw it twice, as Nashville apparently forgot to qualify their RFA's (Shea Weber isn't included in this list, otherwise this becomes the biggest story in hockey), while Tallon takes another shot at Brian Campbell. This time, something tells me Florida won't be forced to sell off their roster as a result.

-Who offers Steven Stamkos an offer sheet? Philly? Detroit (not after signing Ericssson, I'd believe)? If I was the Panthers (assuming I have the literal cash to do so), I'd sign him to a 12 year/$132 million offer sheet. Might actually give the NHL a reason to care about a Bolts/Cats game.

-Carolina resigned Chad LaRose and Jussi Jokinen before July 1. Two guys who are only good with the Canes. My question: What is Erik Cole waiting for?

There is plenty more to talk about, but for now, we wait until noon for the Free Agent Frenzy to begin. Unfortunately, there won't be the amount of updates from me like on last July 1, but a review post will be written. Happy Canada Day everyone!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

NBA Draft Recap

(Editor's note: This NBA Draft piece was written by Jason Guerette, a contributor to South Orange Juice and all around, a guy who really knows his hoops. This post clearly shows this and I'd like to thank him for writing this on short notice)

Well, the NBA Draft is done. Another year, another 60 lucky individuals got their names called by either David Stern, who was roundly booed the entire night, or Adam Silver, who was treated like royalty. I was fortunate enough to attend this year live at the Prudential Center (since the Theater at MSG was being renovated), and I got an up-close and personal look at the ESPN guys, some great retro jerseys (Bobby Hurley and Rolando Blackmon, anyone?), and, of course, the obnoxious Knicks fans. They out-numbered me and the contingent of Nets fans about 3-1, but it should be stated for the record that scores of them left after they booed the Knicks pick (more on that in a moment).

To clarify, the teams listed in each pick slot are the teams who ended up owning the rights to the pick, not the teams who had the rights to the pick and moved it. Those teams are in parentheses after the names of the teams who ended up with the listed player. “Obtained from TEAM X via trade” means that the pick was traded on draft night. “From TEAM X” means that it was from a previous trade.

Without further ado, I present my 2011 NBA Draft Recap!

First Round:

1. CLEVELAND (from LA CLIPPERS) – Kyrie Irving (Freshman G, Duke)

No one was really surprised by this pick. Cleveland continues their post-Decision rebuilding process with Irving, the superfrosh point guard out of Duke. Irving was, quite frankly, an obvious choice- he is a terrific point guard who plays extremely well in pick-and-roll situations and can score and pass at the NBA level. With Baron Davis already there, Irving likely won’t start right away unless Cleveland finds a taker for Davis’ huge contract. If he does start, it will be alongside either Davis or Anthony Parker in the Cleveland backcourt. But by the end of the year, he should be leading the Cavs towards better days.

2. MINNESOTA – Derrick Williams (Sophomore F, Arizona)

With Irving off the board, the Wolves went with Williams at #2. An athletic tweener forward without a true position but with some great skills, he doesn’t really fit Minnesota’s roster well, but they could not find a trade partner for this pick, so it was obvious that they would take Williams. Williams wowed audiences with his high-flying dunks as well as his strong perimeter shooting in the NCAA Tournament, particularly against Duke. He needs to work on his defensive focus, but should be a fine player in the Association for years to come.

3. UTAH (from NEW JERSEY) – Enes Kanter (C, Turkey)

Now here’s where things got interesting. Nearly every mock draft I read had Brandon Knight going in this spot, but the Jazz took the bruiser Kanter instead, beginning a little bit of madness at the Draft. Kanter was ruled ineligible to play at UK, so he hasn’t seen game action in a long time, but his attributes are hard to ignore. He has an NBA body that few prospects have, and the Jazz will welcome his legit (with apologies to Paul Millsap) size in the paint. Kanter gives the Jazz a banger that they just haven’t had in years. It’s a solid pick, don’t get me wrong. But it is a little bit of a surprise.

4. CLEVELAND – Tristan Thompson (Freshman F, Texas)

One of the real head-scratcher picks in this draft, the Cavs used their second top-5 pick on Thompson, an athletic big man out of Texas. I knew Thompson would be a first round pick, but I sure as heck didn’t think it would be this high. Thompson can score in the post and in face-up situations, defend, and has a great motor on the floor. He uses that motor to compete and to get to the foul line. Unfortunately, his free throw shooting is hard to watch. Think a cross between Ben Wallace and that overweight guy you always see failing so badly in those shooting contests that teams have during timeouts in some arenas. He has great talent, but he MUST improve the foul shooting dramatically in order to make an impact. His motor will ensure that he gets there often enough to make this an issue. A true shock pick for me.

5. TORONTO – Jonas Valanciunas (C, Lithuania)

With Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker still on the board, the Raptors use their only pick in the draft on… a guy who may not even come for a year or two? Another surprise pick- Valanciunas has legitimate size and is a young big man with a pretty bright future, something the Raptors need, but passing up on a potential franchise point guard in today’s NBA for a player like Valanciunas just might come back to haunt this troubled franchise. He has a buyout issue, but he is only 19, and the Raptors do have a history of international players doing well there. Still, Knight or Walker would have been smarter (since Jose Calderon- ironically, one of those aforementioned international players- is likely not the long-term answer at the 1).

6. WASHINGTON – Jan Vesely (F, Czech Republic)

When you have a franchise point guard, finding finishers for him to pass the ball to is always key. The Wizards draft who they have been rumored to draft for weeks in this spot, Czech forward Jan Vesely. After a quick kiss with his bombshell of a date (and believe me- she was pretty darn good-looking), he went up on stage to get his draft hat and handshake. What Washington gets here is a guy who is definitely NOT your typical Euro big man. Vesely can fly- he’s more athletic than any Euro player has been in a LONG time, and his high-flying ways will blend well with John Wall’s up-tempo style. Wizards fans will love him.

7. CHARLOTTE (from SACRAMENTO via trade) – Bismack Biyombo (F, Congo)

Well, this was another surprising pick. Biyombo came out of nowhere to become a lottery pick, and a draft day trade sends his rights to the Bobcats. Charlotte gets an all-defense shotblocker and protector of the rim with Biyombo, who has freakish (wingspan- 7’7”) length and gives Charlotte something it hasn’t had in, well… ever. With Detroit rumored to take him for a while now, the Bobcats throw a wrench in those plans and nab a raw, but intriguing big man.

8. DETROIT – Brandon Knight (freshman G, Kentucky)

With Biyombo already off the board, the Pistons make a smart, smart pick in selecting the smart, smart Knight here. They have never really been comfortable with Rodney Stuckey at the 1, and this selection moves him to his more natural position of scoring guard. Not only that, but Knight is a good shooter (Stuckey is more of a slasher), and a plus defender with a good hoops IQ (which Detroit has lacked). It’s really a great pick, since Detroit had to get better on D with it, and still did with their prime target off the board. “Smart Joe” Dumars strikes again!

9. CHARLOTTE – Kemba Walker (junior G, Connecticut)

Well, the Bobcats’ other glaring need was scoring, and they excited a lot of people in Newark when they selected Walker, the sensation who led UConn to the national title this past March. In Charlotte, Walker will be looked upon to score, since the same trade that netted the Bobcats Bismack Biyombo also sent away Steven Jackson. Walker has tremendous quickness and toughness, two things that will help him since he isn’t very tall. Walker has been a winner everywhere he has been, and plays with a competitive spirit that Michael Jordan and company will love. When you look at it, since there were no great wings in this draft for scoring, Charlotte’s need for scoring would have to be filled with a smaller player, and Walker fits the bill.

10. SACRAMENTO (from MILWAUKEE via trade) – Jimmer Fredette (senior G, BYU)

The Jimmer was clearly the crowd favorite tonight, and he finds a home in Sacramento, where he should continue to be a crowd favorite. How the Kings will use Fredette, I have no idea, but Jimmer can fill it up and shoot from almost anywhere on the court. He is also a better athlete than he seems. Scoring guards/wings are sorely needed in Sacramento, and the Kings also need to put fans in seats at Power Balance Pavillion (nee ARCO Arena). Enter The Jimmer to try and fix both.

11. GOLDEN STATE – Klay Thompson (junior G, Washington State)

I love this pick by the Warriors. Thompson is an underrated shooter who can defend as well; his shooting fits Golden State’s roster nicely, and his defense will be welcome on this team. He has a smoothness to his game that I think will translate nicely into the NBA. And as someone tweeted me after he was picked, being the son of former NBA player and great defender Mychal Thompson, he’d better defend! (Editor's note: Pretty sure I tweeted this to Jason)

12. UTAH – Alec Burks (sophomore G, Colorado)

The Jazz nailed this one- in addition to their need for a banger, they also need a wing, and Burks is a guy who can do everything you need him to except shoot consistently. He can get to the rim, defend pretty well, and rebound well for his position. If he develops a jumper, watch out for this pick to be a pretty good one down the road for the Jazz. Not only that, but Burks plays with a chip on his shoulder, so he’ll always give effort on both ends. Jerry Sloan would have loved this pick.

13. PHOENIX – Markieff Morris (junior F, Kansas)

Let’s be honest here- you thought Marcus, the better scorer of the two Morris twins, would be drafted before Markieff, the better rebounder/defender of the two. Well, Phoenix chose the elder twin, and it’s a good pick. Markieff is a definite 4, unlike his brother, and can help the Suns on defense, which they need. With Marcin Gortat looking like the center for the time being, a forward to go with him was on the Suns’ needs list, and Morris can certainly fill in the blanks alongside Gortat.

14. HOUSTON – Marcus Morris (junior F, Kansas)

Well, Marcus sure didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called. Houston needs size BADLY, and Marcus Morris isn’t exactly ideal in that department. But he can score at the forward position, which the Rockets will like alongside Luis Scola, who looks like he will continue to be an undersized center. And hey- is there a better guy to learn the finer points of being an undersized post player than Chuck Hayes?

15. SAN ANTONIO (from INDIANA via trade) – Kawhi Leonard (sophomore F, San Diego State)

In another head-scratcher, the Spurs trade George Hill (NOT Tony Parker) and get back Leonard in the deal. Hill was the point guard of the future for the Spurs, or so we thought. Leonard is a versatile defender and a great rebounder, although he doesn’t have a true position, either. He needs to improve his handle and his jumper to be a threat on offense, but Leonard is a great glue guy who always competes hard on both ends of the floor. Those in the Spurs organization will love that about him, as well as that versatility on defense. He should come in and receive playing time right away because he works so hard.

16. PHILADELPHIA – Nikola Vucevic (junior C, USC)

The Sixers hit a home run with this pick. Vucevic is a legitimate center who is also a legit low-post scorer. The Sixers get a center who can score for the first time in ages and fill out their already solid roster of Elton Brand, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and company with Vucevic, who could turn out to be the steal of this weak draft class. I think he’s that good, and again- he has legit size for a center and scoring ability in the post, something that you really couldn’t find in any other player in this draft.

17. 17. NEW YORK – Iman Shumpert (junior G, Georgia Tech)

Cue the boos from the Knicks fans. I was surrounded by them, and after David Stern announced this pick, many of them looked like their puppy had just been run over by a truck. It was a pretty amusing scene. But in all seriousness, Shumpert is a good defender (best defender on the team already? It’s very possible…) who has very quick hands and forces a lot of steals. His jumper is erratic, but the defensive ability is there. He played a lot of point guard this past year at GT, and Knicks fans should hope that he can usurp Toney Douglas from the backup point guard role, since that decidedly did NOT work last year. Shumpert shot up the draft boards this past week, and Knicks fans should not despair. There have been worse draft picks by James Dolan and company than this one.

18. WASHINGTON (from ATLANTA) – Chris Singleton (junior F, Florida State)

Ok, so this is the guy many Knicks fans wanted the pick before. Singleton is a better and more versatile defender than Shumpert, an athletic and rangy forward who can guard 4 positions on the floor. He can’t score, but his presence as a wing defender fits the Washington roster nicely. It’s a solid pick by Washington, who really had a good night at the draft.

19. MILWAUKEE (from CHARLOTTE via trade) – Tobias Harris (freshman F, Tennessee)

As part of the trade that sent the 10th pick to Sacramento and the 7th pick to Charlotte, the Bucks get the rights to this pick, and get Tobias Harris, and athletic forward with a high basketball IQ. He isn’t overly great at any one thing, but is versatile on offense, can shoot the ball well, and is (hopefully) smart enough to ignore Steven Jackson (who was also sent to Milwaukee in the same trade). A nice complimentary piece for the Bucks to add- his versatility means that he can fill in the blanks.

20. HOUSTON (from MINNESOTA via trade) – Donatas Montiejunas (F, Lithuania)

Ok, now we’re talking. Listed at 7 feet, Montiejunas has legit size and is pretty skilled and athletic for that size. There are questions about his motor, though, and he also may not come over to the NBA right away. Curious seeing as Houston needs help now up front, but you can’t really complain if you’re a Rockets fan for any reason other than that. Montiejunas could turn into a pretty good player down the road.

21. PORTLAND – Nolan Smith (senior G, Duke)

Well, this one was a shocker as well. The Blazers reach for Smith, who was projected by some to fall into the second round, and may end up with a good pick there. With a trade sending Andre Miller to Denver for Raymond Felton, that point guard tandem of Smith and Felton could work nicely. Smith is a great smart player who can nail a catch-and-shoot three and defend his position well. He won’t start over Felton, but the more I think about this pick the more I warm up to it.

22. DENVER – Kenneth Faried (senior F, Morehead State)

The Nuggets select the Newark native and one of the best rebounders in the modern era of college basketball with this pick, which received loud cheers from everyone in attendance. Faried is a high motor guy and as previously stated, a fantastic 5-zone rebounder. He’s also athletic, and I like to compare him to Kenyon Martin a little bit- not because of his hype coming out of tiny Morehead State (Martin was also more athletic than Faried), but because of what his role could be with Denver. Martin currently provides the rebounding, and Faried may end up replacing him if the Nuggets decide not to resign Martin down the road.

23. CHICAGO (from HOUSTON via trade) – Nikola Mirotic (F, Serbia)

Mirotic is one of those draft-and-stash/wait picks, a 6’10” forward who is very well-rounded. He is a good shooter, but can also put the ball on the floor and defend multiple positions. The catch is that he won’t be coming for a few years because of contract issues. The one Bulls fan I talked to at the Draft didn’t like that too much, but he, and all Bulls fans, will have to wait for this great talent to come on over.

24. OKLAHOMA CITY – Reggie Jackson (junior G, Boston College)

Well, someone was going to take a risk on Jackson, who because of injury was unable to work out for anyone. Jackson showed this past season that he can score, which OKC can definitely use off the bench. As a young team with a deep roster, the Thunder took a calculated risk, one that could pay off nicely, but if it doesn’t, they won’t take too much a step back. Good pick by them.

25. NEW JERSEY (from BOSTON via trade) – Marshon Brooks (senior G, Providence)

Boy, oh boy do I love this pick by my NJ Nets. The Nets happen to have a franchise point guard in Deron Williams, but suffered this past year on the wings. Enter Brooks, who was one of the top scorers in the nation this past year. He has great size for the wing position, good range on his jumper, and can also get into the paint and get to the line. On defense, he should adjust to the NBA because of his size and his athleticism. D-Will finally has a scorer (Anthony Morrow is more of a shooter) to pass to, and the Nets get a great deal done with Boston to nab Brooks at 25th overall.

26. DENVER (from DALLAS via trade) – Jordan Hamilton (sophomore F, Texas)

The Nuggets got the rights to Hamilton from Dallas in a trade, and Hamilton is a talented shooter/scorer, someone who should be explosive. This is a great value pick, as Hamilton has the talent to have already been off the board by now, yet somehow slipped to this position. The question now becomes what you do with Wilson Chandler. If you keep Chandler, Hamilton doesn’t seem to have a true spot on the roster.

27. BOSTON (from NEW JERSEY via trade) – JaJuan Johnson (senior F, Purdue)

Honestly, I would have been happy with this pick had New Jersey just kept it, but I’ll gladly take Brooks. Boston will also gladly take Johnson, who is very similar to Kevin Garnett in terms of their games- both are tall, perimeter-oriented big men. Garnett can mentor Johnson as he improves both his jumper and his defense, and mold him into his potential successor (and current backup) in Boston. Solid trade, by the way, between Boston and the Nets that helps both teams. The Nets also sent a future 2nd rounder to Boston in the deal.

28. MIAMI (from CHICAGO via trade) – Norris Cole (senior G, Cleveland State)

It was an interesting pick by Chicago initially, but it became Miami’s pick via a trade. Cole can certainly run a team and score, and Miami needed some punch on it’s bench. Cole can be a terrific backup point/combo guard for the Heat, who will likely cut ties with Mike Bibby and move Mario Chalmers into the starting lineup.

29. SAN ANTONIO – Cory Joseph (freshman G, Texas)

Strange pick, as Joseph shouldn’t really have declared in the first place. After all these years, we have learned not to doubt the Spurs when it comes to draft day, but this one is just weird. Joseph can score a little, but is not a great athlete and is an above-average, but not great shooter. He’s a combo guard in the truest (and perhaps unfortunate) sense of the word. Shocked that he went in the first round, and to San Antonio as well. Perhaps they see something we don’t. It wouldn’t be the first time.

30. CHICAGO – Jimmy Butler (senior F, Marquette)

I love this pick for so many reasons- one: the road Butler has taken to the NBA is inspiring, two: Butler is versatile on both offense and defense and can step in and fill in the blanks for a contender like Chicago, and three: he’s a quality person. Glad to see he got drafted by the right organization and the right team. He should contribute right away because of his strong work ethic.

Second Round:

The second round was filled with a ton of weirdness, to say the least.

31. NEW JERSEY (from MIAMI/MINNESOTA via trade) – Bojan Bogdanovic (F, Croatia)

Another guy with contract issues that will keep him out of the league for a while, Bogdanovic is described as a versatile forward who can do just about anything, sort of like the last pick, Jimmy Butler. See ya’ later, Bogdanovic.

32. ORLANDO (from CLEVELAND via trade) – Justin Harper (senior F, Richmond)

Orlando buys the rights to Harper and gets a Ryan Anderson clone to pair with Dwight Howard. I guess they like his defense or something else in his game because, you know, they already have Ryan Anderson to do those things. Harper can shoot the daylights out of the ball, and is a better midrange shooter than Anderson. Perhaps a trade of one or the other is in order, because they duplicate each other so closely.

33. DETROIT (from TORONTO) – Kyle Singler (senior F, Duke)

There’s no easy way to say this- I don’t like this pick one bit. Singler was a very good college player, but I do not think his game translates into the NBA at all. With his build and lack of great athleticism, he has to be a great shooter, but he isn’t at all. Sure, he can work on his game and especially his shooting, but if he doesn’t develop a consistent jumper (and quick) he won’t last long at all.

34. WASHINGTON – Shelvin Mack (junior G, Butler)

Man, is Washington having a great draft or what? Mack is a proven winner with an NBA-ready body and a good jump shot (not great, but good). Mack can also get in the lane to make stuff happen, and coming from Butler, he is a plus defender at his position, and his body helps him out on D. Can he play a good point guard and back up John Wall adequately? That is the $64,000 question with him, but the Wiz got a proven winner who will definitely come in and work hard. Great pick all around.

35. SACRAMENTO – Tyler Honeycutt (sophomore F, UCLA)

The Kings take the local kid in Tyler Honeycutt. What he brings to the table is his defense. Listed at 6’8”, he has the athletic ability to make that defensive ability count. He’s also an unselfish passer and a smart player with a high hoops IQ. He can’t really score, which Sacramento did need coming into this draft, but he can defend the perimeter, which the Kings also needed (what DIDN’T the Kings need, honestly?). Solid pick of a defense-first guy to pair with the Jimmer’s offense-first mentality by the Kings.

36. NEW JERSEY – Jordan Williams (senior F, Maryland)

Halle-freaking-lujah. The Nets get physical with their selection of Williams, a bruising forward with long arms that make up for a lack of explosiveness. Williams is the best rebounder left on the board and rarely strays to the perimeter for anything except a screen, meaning one thing to me- he’d better fight Brook Lopez in practice and re-teach him how to rebound. He also fits as a nice backup to Kris Humphries (provided he’s re-signed) if needed. But his main value will be to go right at Lopez and force him to rediscover his rebounding edge. Solid second-round pick and if Williams can keep his conditioning up, he’ll carve out a nice Humphries-like career at best.

37. LA CLIPPERS (from DETROIT) – Trey Thompkins (junior F, Georgia)

Thompkins is very much like Jordan Williams- both are physical inside presences, although while Thompkins comes armed with a jump shot as well, he isn’t really as developed as Williams. By that I mean that Thompkins has the tools, but hasn’t put them together like Williams did this past year at Maryland, leading that team with his play down low. The Clippers nab a big man here that can be very valuable down the road and off the bench behind Blake Griffin and/or DeAndre Jordan.

38. HOUSTON (from LA CLIPPERS) – Chandler Parsons (senior F, Florida)

Before you write Parsons off as a Chase Budinger clone, take these facts into account- Parsons is 6’10” (bigger than Budinger) and is not as athletic as Budinger, but he is a better passer and has a better hoops IQ. Parsons is the type of player that can come off your bench and give you decent minutes night in and night out. With so much uncertainty in Houston, the Rockets need someone like that. If Parsons gets a consistent stroke from deep, then they may just have something there.

39. GOLDEN STATE (from CHARLOTTE via trade) – Jeremy Tyler (F, USA)

The great unknown pick, Golden State acquires Tyler’s rights and they get a guy who skipped his senior year of high school to go pro overseas. Tyler is a project at this level. One of the best high school players in the country a couple years ago, he isn’t nearly as highly regarded now. He’ll have to work very hard to make it in the Association.

40. MILWAUKEE – Jon Leuer (senior F, Wisconsin)

Another local guy pick, this one actually has a decent chance of working out. Leuer is not athletic at all, but in Bo Ryan’s system at Wisconsin, his skills were undeniable. Leuer can basically do everything- shoot, pass, rebound (although for his size he could be better), defend, and even create off the dribble. He’s listed at 7 feet, although he could be a little shorter than that. But he’s a smart player who Scott Skiles will love in his defense-first system.

41. LA LAKERS (from GOLDEN STATE) – Darius Morris (sophomore G, Michigan)

I was talking with a Michigan State alum at the draft about Morris, and he thinks the same thing I do- great size for his position, good court vision, excellent defender and a good shooter, but isn’t quite going to step in and beat out Derek Fisher for a starting spot. Both of us agreed that Morris can certainly go at Fisher and Steve Blake in practice, and new head coach Mike Brown loves guys who can defend, but I don’t think he’s quite the point guard of the future in LA, even though the Lakers got good value with their first pick in this draft.

42. SAN ANTONIO (from INDIANA via trade)- Davis Bertans (F, Latvia)

Bertans is regarded as a great shooter, and the Spurs get to stash him away for a little bit. Again, do not question San Antonio when it comes to draft moves, although I maintain that trading George Hill was a bit of a mistake on their part.

43. MINNESOTA (from CHICAGO via trade) – Malcolm Lee (junior G, UCLA)

Lee, like his teammate Tyler Honeycutt, is primarily a defender. He has a more consistent jumper than Honeycutt does, and also played a little point guard at UCLA from time to time. What Lee lacks is a great hoops IQ, making some questionable decisions with the ball. He does have great athleticism, though, and depending on who’s hired in Minnesota, that could help his cause.

44. GOLDEN STATE (from CHICAGO) – Charles Jenkins (senior G, Hofstra)

Well, the contingent of Hofstra fans that stayed loyally got to see Jenkins get picked. The two-time defending Haggerty Award-winner as the best player in the NY Metro area, the Warriors get another guard who can flat-out score the ball. Jenkins is like Monta Ellis in that he is undersized, but I think Jenkins can succeed coming off the bench for Mark Jackson in the Bay Area. The large group of Pride fans certainly think so.

45. NEW YORK (from NEW ORLEANS via trade) – Josh Harrellson (senior C, Kentucky)

Umm… what? Josh “Jorts” Harrellson actually gets drafted? This is where the second round really started getting weird. Harrellson had a great year at Kentucky, anchoring the Wildcats down low with his strong rebounding and occasional scoring. But did anyone honestly think he’d get drafted? New York bought his rights, and it’s nice to have some size, and a center, but there’s no way in my mind that he’s the answer to the Knicks’ needs down low.

46. LA LAKERS (from NEW YORK) – Andrew Goudelock (senior G, College of Charleston)

Goudelock can light it up from anywhere on the court. A pure scorer with deep range on his jumper, he projects out to be a backup point guard in the NBA. He complements Darius Morris (the Lakers’ previous draftee) well because his shooting is what Morris lacks. You could definitely do worse this late in the draft.

47. LA CLIPPERS (from HOUSTON) - Travis Leslie (junior G, Georgia)

I would love to see a dunk contest featuring both Leslie and Blake Griffin. It would get ratings. Good ratings. Leslie is an explosive athlete who projects out to be a defensive stopper at the guard positions because of that athleticism. He may not score a lot in the NBA, but when he does, it just might make Sportscenter every time. Keep an eye on him.

48. ATLANTA- Keith Benson (senior C, Oakland)

The Hawks have only one pick in this draft and they get bigger with Benson. Benson is a great talent, but his body needs work. If he gains a good amount of muscle on his 6’11” frame, he’ll have a good career.

49. MEMPHIS – Josh Selby (freshman G, Kansas)

Well, someone finally takes a chance on Selby, the troubled but talented guard out of Kansas. Selby had a down year for the Jayhawks and it hurt his draft status, but Memphis is an enigmatic franchise who has taken chances on Tony Allen and Zack Randolph (and had it pay off in both cases), so they get good value talent-wise with this pick.

50. PHILADELPHIA (from NEW ORLEANS) – Lavoy Allen (senior F, Temple)

Another local guy pick, but I don’t think this one will stick as well as some of the others. Allen was a great player at Temple, but he was also inconsistently so. Since the Sixers already have Elton Brand at the 4 spot, Allen will need to work his butt off for PT.

51. PORTLAND - Jon Diebler (senior G, Ohio State)

Diebler is a shooter, plain and simple. If you’re drafting this late, he’s worth taking a flyer on, especially since Portland finally shipped Rudy Fernandez out of town in that trade that brought them Raymond Felton.

52. DETROIT – Vernon Macklin (senior F, Florida)

Macklin is a big body who can help depth-wise down low. He developed a decent jump hook this past season, but he’s still a very raw prospect.

53. ORLANDO – DeAndre Liggins (junior G, Kentucky)

Liggins is a defender first, last and always. His selection by the Magic could turn out to be a pretty good one. The last good perimeter defender the Magic had was Mickael Pietrus, and that seems like ages ago.

54. CLEVELAND (from OKLAHOMA CITY) – Milan Macvan (F, Serbia)

Two words- waste pick. Enough said. This pick started a string of “Who the heck is that guy?” picks late in this round that made me wonder if the GMs were tired so they just opened a book and picked a random name from there. Seriously, these were bad picks. Don’t believe me? Read on.

55. BOSTON- E’Twaun Moore (senior G, Purdue)

Moore is a pretty good selection here. His shooting will be what carries him into the league and onto someone’s roster because he isn’t a great athlete. He can play a little point, which can also help his cause because he doesn’t have great size, either.

56. DENVER (from LA LAKERS via trade) – Chukwudiebere Maduabum (C, Bakersfield Jam, NBADL)

WHO???? WHAT???? WHY????

57. MINNESOTA (from DALLAS via trade) - Tanguy Ngombo (F, Qatar)

Fran Fraschilla said that this guy was the best player to ever come out of the Qatar pro league. Which would be great. But I bet the USA U-18 squad could beat them. I nearly left at this point because of the past two picks. The most ridiculous things I have ever seen at the Draft, and I’ve been watching for a good 6 years straight.

58. LA LAKERS (from MIAMI) – Ater Majok (F, Sudan)

Ok, scratch that. THIS is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen at the Draft. The Lakers are either having a blind guy pick for them at this point or... you know what that’s what they are doing. Yep. And yes, this is the same guy who bombed in his lone year at UConn and was the rawest big man in the history of the world.

59. SAN ANTONIO – Adam Hanga (G, Hungary)

Fran Fraschilla gave this selection his stamp of approval, and from the highlights, he just may be right. The Spurs tend to do their homework on international guys, so they actually did some and picked Hanga. Manu Ginobili was 57th overall, so you never know. But again, you have to do your homework, which the Lakers and Mavs clearly didn’t do.

60. SACRAMENTO (from MILWAUKEE) – Isaiah Thomas (junior G, Washington)

SOMEONE WE’VE HEARD OF!!! Thomas is a little guy with good quickness who played a good point guard at Washington this past year. If anything, he can be a change of pace guy off the bench. Because of his size, he’ll also be a fan favorite in Sacramento provided he makes the team.

And there you have it! It was great to see the Draft live for once, and the venue really worked nicely for the event. The talent pool was weak, but it was still a nice experience. Hopefully this isn’t all made null and void by the NBA lockout, or as I like to call it, The Impending Doom. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stanley Cup Final Preview

The theme of this year's Stanley Cup Final is the exercising of postseason failure. Both the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins have experienced losing, not just in the history of both franchises, but recent memory as well.

For the Bruins, it's a history of losing to the Montreal Canadiens almost every spring, plus the years of 1988-92 which they reached the Cup Final twice and two Wales Conference Finals as well and couldn't win. It also includes the last two springs which include a Game 7 home overtime loss to Carolina and the loss to the Flyers after leading the series 3-0.

Vancouver's past include losing Game 7 to the Rangers in the 1994 Final, coming within a Nathan Lafayette shot off the post from tying the game. It also includes the Markus Naslund-Todd Bertuzzi years which they were the most entertaining team, yet dealt with playoff failures in the early 2000s. Their recent failures are the back-to-back series losses to the Chicago Blackhawks, which saw the worst of Roberto Luongo by the end of each series.

Now these two teams are set to take the ice tonight in Rogers Arena to begin a Stanley Cup Final which the matchup on paper might mean nothing. Then again, this is hockey, the matchup on paper doesn't always mean anything. The best three players in this series are probably both Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Boston can counter with Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton, who might not be as good as the Vancouver three, at the very least are playing as well right now.

Just rewatch both series; the Sedins regained their scoring touch as particularly Henrik dominated the series with his passing. When he gets going, then brother Daniel starts to score, then Alex Burrows and before long, a more confident Canucks team emerges, which is troublesome for the entire league. That doesn't include Kesler, who's a jack of all trades for the Canucks, with his scoring, playmaking, and special teams ability. As for the Bruins, all three men carried the Bruins at times late in the series. Krejci, alone, has been the Bruins catalyst for the last 3 years, only no one really thinks of this as true. When they lost to the Flyers last year, it was due to Krejci's injury and no one else being able to score consistently for them. Along with Horton, who's been the sniper that Boston fans have wanted for years, not so much in huge goal numbers, but just a plain ability to get the puck past the goaltender. Meanwhile, Lucic just seems to be everywhere, skating hard and no one on the ice will take a run at him, for fear of how he'd answer back.

The rest of both teams' rosters are full of depth; players who are willing to step up when needed. It's no different than any other hockey team, only the quality of the depth. Zdeno Chara is the best defensemen in the series and almost certainly will be on Sedin duty this series. Tyler Seguin is the Bruins x-factor, who can carry the Bruins when they aren't scoring with his ability. Mark Recchi, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley all provide big minutes and timely plays for Boston and Dennis Seidenberg has been key as Chara d-line mate. The Canucks depth includes Kevin Bieksa, a defensemen who while isn't a Chara on the blueline, can do anything that's needed by Vancouver. Chris Higgins has really led the team with his scoring because he's more a grinder than scorer. And then there's Raffi Torres, a man who will be called apon to give big hits to the Bruins, countering what Boston thinks as how they would win this series.

Finally, the goaltenders, where this series story will be told. Roberto Luongo has had all the expectation to reach this stage and after some tough times in the Chicago series, he's really carried the Canucks past the Predators in a low-scoring series and past a more high-octane Sharks squad. Meanwhile, what hasn't already been said about Tim Thomas. The man just competes in goal. He reminds me of Mike Richter to be honest, as both men were battler's in net and while both guys were at times susceptible to a soft goal, also can't be beat if they play at their best. The Tampa series is really what you need to know from Thomas, following up each loss with a near unstoppable performance (yes, I know he gave up 5 goals in Game 2, but followed that game with a shutout). My warning for anyone picking Vancouver; that means you're picking against Tim Thomas.

I've thought this series is a lot like a reverse 1994 with the Canucks in the Rangers role and Boston in Vancouver's role. Vancouver, like the Rangers, probably can do more of what they want to do on the ice, only that goaltender is there to shut them down, and when he does, Boston will counterpunch. This is a series that will go seven, only I see the home team losing and waiting another year.

Predicition: Bruins in 7