Former NBA Stars Shine in Indianapolis at the BIG3

By Evan Kinser, June 23rd, 2019 5:09 pm EST


Images licensed by Getty Images and BIG3

The third season of Ice Cube’s BIG3 league made one of its first stops on Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis.

Following an impressive showing in Detroit the night before-14,235 fans made their way to Little Caesars Arena- the league is hoping for an even bigger showing today in Indy.

In Detroit, NBA fans were able to see some of the best players of the early 2000’s lace ‘em up for one more time with stars like Lamar Odom, Baron Davis, Cuttino Mobley, Josh Smith, and Gilbert Arenas all in attendance for Saturday’s games.

The way the BIG3 is set up is that half of the teams (six) will show up to a city on Saturday, and the remaining six will be playing the following day, equaling three games per city. Once a team reaches 25 points, then there will be a halftime break. Once a team scores 50 points, then they are crowned the winner.

The first game featured the Joe Johnson and Al Jefferson-led Triplets as well as the Andre Owens and Greg Oden-led Aliens. The star power went beyond the players, with coaches Nate “Tiny” Archibald (Aliens) and WNBA Legend Lisa Leslie (Triplets) leading the way for their respective teams.

The Aliens started the game out hot, going up 14-2 after former #1 overall NBA Draft pick Greg Oden threw down some monster dunks and former #1 overall BIG3 Draft pick Andre Owens connected on a few shots.  As it looked like the lead may get out of hand, the Triplets started to warm up and were able to get the lead below six, facing just a 26-20 deficit at the halftime break.

After the break, the Triplets went on a 10-0 run to get a 4 point lead with all of the points coming from the two biggest names in the game: Al Jefferson and Joe Johnson. Throughout the remainder of the game, seven time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson continued to put on a show and reminded fans of why his nickname in the NBA was always “Iso Joe,” with several post-ups ending in two points.

To close the game, the Triplets went with Joe Johnson, Al Jefferson, and Alan Anderson, and they were able to get the needed stops to put Joe Johnson in position to close the game out with a three and then scoring the game-winning floater. When I asked Joe if he believed he could finish the game out if the team closed the deficit, he said, “I was very confident. You know, in the first half we had great looks but we just couldn’t make shots. In the second half we kind of settled in a little bit, we knocked down shots, got defensive stops and once we were points from game, I knew we were gonna win.”


In game two, the Killer 3’s and Tri-State faced off, making for another great game.

The Killer 3’s were led by former NBA players Eddy Curry and Josh Powell, and Tri-State featured former NBA stars Amar’e Stoudemire, Nate Robinson, Jason Richardson, and Bonzi Wells.

Both teams were without a player captain, as former Pacers Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson missed the game.

Like in the previous game, the coaches for each team were stars in their playing days: Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Charles Oakley.  Just knowing the names of these coaches can tell you all you need to know about this game: it was scrappy.

Charles Oakley, known throughout his NBA career as a guy you wouldn’t want to mess with, wants to win anyway possible. The same can be said about Dr. J, who won MVP awards in both the NBA and ABA, but also won two ABA championships and one NBA championship.

With the Killer 3’s roster changing dramatically from last year to this year, there was definitely an adjustment period for the team. Last year’s roster featured NBA All-Stars Metta World Peace and Chauncey Billups to go along with Stephen Jackson, but today’s roster did not feature any of those three players.

Though Tri-State struggled early, they were able to close the half strong by going on a 22-7 run  to secure a 26-17 lead at the half. The main catalyst in putting Tri-State in that position was six time NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire. After putting up 8.8 ppg in the BIG3 last year, Amar’e was ready to show that he could still do a lot of the things that made him an elite player throughout his 14 years in the NBA. He finished with 28 points on the day.

The ending of the game was definitely in dramatic fashion as former Sacramento King Donte Green hit the game winning three to give the Killer 3’s the two point victory.  BIG3 rules are that you have to win by 2, and after trailing 52-51, he knocked down the biggest shot of the day to bring his team to victory.


In the third and final game of the day, the Ball Hogs and Ghost Ballers squared off. The stars of the game were Brian Scalabrine (Ball Hogs), DeShawn Stevenson (Ball Hogs), Mike Bibby (Ghost Ballers), and Ricky Davis (Ghost Ballers). Former NBA All-Star Carlos Boozer was not available to play for the Ghost Ballers.

The coaches for this game certainly did not disappoint either, with Rick  Barry and George “The Iceman” Gervin.

This game was tight for the entirety of the first half, with the Ghost Ballers having the slight 26-23 edge, but the Ball Hogs were hampered by injury with Jermaine Taylor leaving in the first few minutes of the game and DeShawn Stevenson, who was limping at the end of the first.

The second half was much of the same, with the teams trading buckets throughout; but there was one difference in this half and the rest of the games that were played today: four point shots. The Ghost Ballers were the only team to attempt a four-pointer, which is one of the special things about the BIG3.  The shot is about 5 feet back from the three-point line, and it can get you back into a game very quickly. Though they didn’t connect on these, it was still a really cool thing to see.

The Ghost Ballers were able to extend the lead to nine with the score being 42-33 after a cold stretch by the Ball Hogs, and were able to hit shot after shot at the end with the game being decided by a put-back courtesy of Jamario Moon. The Ghost Ballers were victorious in the final game by a score of 50-39.


Additional Notes:

*Former Indiana Hoosier and Houston Rocket Eric Gordon was in attendance and was welcomed by the fans with a loud roar.

*Ice Cube was welcomed by Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett and was thanked for bringing the BIG3 to the city.

Daniel Poe Signs With Eastern Kentucky University

Daniel pictured with parents and coaches

By Evan Kinser, April 26th, 2019 10:41 am EST

Powell County High School senior Daniel Poe officially signed with Eastern Kentucky University’s cheerleading team on Wednesday night.

This was Daniel’s first year cheering for Powell County, and it really worked out for him: earning a Division 1 scholarship. This definitely wasn’t easy. Daniel had to put in a lot of hours to get where he is now, and had to attend many open gyms and practices.

Daniel, who is currently playing baseball, never thought that he would be a cheerleader. While he always thought that he would play college sports, cheerleading was a sport that never crossed his mind until this year. “I am really excited for this new chapter in my life. I never thought that I would be signing my senior year to be a Division 1 athlete and I am so grateful for this opportunity that Eastern is giving me.”

His start with cheer began when Daniel was joking around on the sidelines of a basketball game. Cheer coach Kayla Mays noticed him, and asked him to come to a practice. His career really took off once he began practicing with the team.

After getting more and more exposure, he was invited by some cheerleaders at Eastern to come to Richmond and stunt with them. As he kept coming, the cheer coach noticed him and asked him if he would like a scholarship.

Daniel won’t be alone at Eastern next year, his long-time friend and baseball teammate, Nate Skidmore, signed on to play to football for the team a few months ago. Daniel said, “It is great to have another classmate and one of my best friends, going to the same school to be a D-1 athlete as well.” This is a big deal for Powell County to have two students going to play Division-1 sports at the same school. Powell County High School principal Doug Brewer spoke about this when Daniel was signing, and that he will have to catch more Eastern games now instead of Kentucky football games.

Nate is excited that Daniel will be there as well, “I am very excited to have one of my best buddies there to cheer me on every game. I am very proud of him. I never thought he would be a cheerleader, but it all works out and he is a great feller.”

Daniel had thought about signing with a college to play baseball, but knew he wanted to go to EKU. Once he got a D-1 scholarship, he knew that Eastern was his only choice. He is happy with his decision because he loves cheerleading, even though he will always have a love for baseball.

This is a great opportunity for Daniel, and Powell County wishes him nothing but the best. Starting a new chapter in his life, and hopefully opening the doors for more male cheerleaders in the future for Powell County.

Pirates To Face Hazard Tonight

Skidmore looks to push the pace (Image by Rylan Meadows)

By Evan Kinser, March 1st, 2019 5:08 pm EST

The Powell County Pirates boys basketball team is coming off a huge victory over Letcher County Central in their first game of the regional tournament Tuesday night. Now down to just four teams in the tournament, Powell is set for a showdown with regional power Hazard on Friday night at 8 PM.

Hazard is feeling the momentum after their overtime victory over regional favorite Breathitt County. After trailing by 9 points in the third quarter, they responded to keep the game tight for the rest of the way. Perhaps the most impressive part of their victory over Breathitt is how they played in overtime. It is rare for a team to outscore another by 11 points in an overtime period, and Hazard did just that.

Powell County is also feeling momentum after Nate Skidmore’s game winning free throw against Letcher County Central on Tuesday night. With just one second left on the game clock, Skidmore hit a three foot shot and drew the foul to tie the game. Nate knocked down the free throw to give the Pirates the one point edge, and Letcher Central failed to score far on the opposite baseline.

Powell County head coach Blake Williams thinks that the victory over Letcher Central will help them for their next game, “It gave us confidence in that we can beat any team in the region because Letcher was considered a top-5 team.” This added confidence could do wonders for the Pirates.

There could also be added confidence because starting center Chimaobi Ajuonuma-Creed missed the first matchup against Hazard, the third game of the season. To say that Powell County has grown since the last time they played is an understatement.

In the last thirteen games, the Pirates have won ten and a lot of that has to do with coach Williams. “Since coach Williams has taken over, we have a new confidence about us,” said senior Bryce Merion, “He really believes in us and always has us ready to play.” For players to have full confidence in their coach is a testament to the job that Williams has done in his short time as head coach.

Hazard will be a tough matchup for the Pirates because they are strong at each position. Bryce Merion knows this, “Hazard is a really tough team. They have a really solid point guard in Wade Pelfrey, really good slashers in Austin Bennett and Johnson, and two of the best bigs in the region in Logan Hall and Reece Fletcher.” He also knows that Hazard head coach will be a big factor in this game, “They are really hard to prepare for because they execute their plays so well. Of course, everyone knows about their coach Al Holland – he is one of the best coaches in the region and he will have them ready to go.” Coach Williams agrees with this, “You really can’t overthink it against a good scoring team, you just have to have confidence in your player’s defensive ability.

The home-court advantage has played a role for the Pirates this season, winning 7 of their 12 home games. Of their 5 home losses, the largest margin of defeat was just 12 points which was against Lexington school Tates Creek in the second game of the season. Bryce Merion thinks that being at home can have an affect on the game, “I think that since the game is here, anything can happen.”

Going against Hazard will be a tough test for the Pirates, but Powell County has shown recently that they can win these tough games. Expect a close game but also high scoring. The Pirates will try to push and score more points in this game than against Letcher, so that could have a big impact on the outcome of this game.

Regardless of the outcome, the Pirates have played great basketball this season and have excited this community.

Interview with Coach Blake Williams

(Image by Beyond The Light Photography)
(Image by Beyond The Light Photography)

By 

This season for the Powell County Pirates has been up and down, but recently the Pirates have been playing some of their best ball of the season, winning six of their last seven games. They have faced injuries, a tough schedule, and even a coaching change. Through all this, it hasn’t stopped the Pirates on their pursuit of a district tournament championship and a trip to the 14th Region tournament though, as they have locked up the top seed for the district. Through all of their adversities, new Pirates coach Blake Williams has found a way to turn this season around.

Williams, a former Knott County Central assistant coach, has always loved the game of basketball. Though at first he didn’t think he would go into coaching, as he was finishing college he realized he wanted to coach and hasn’t looked back since.

Basketball isn’t the most important thing in his life either. He is a devout Christian and he says his relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in his life.  His wife (Kelsey) and his daughter (Hallie Blake), are his biggest fans and they mean everything to him.

I sat down with Coach Williams recently to discuss his first year in Powell County, here is our conversation below:

 

EK:  Before coming to Powell, you were with Knott County Central for 8 years. What made you want to make the move here?

BW:  I think the intrigue of the possibility of taking over as head coach of Powell County, a school I have always had a lot of respect for. It is a great location in the region and they are always competitive, so it was intriguing all around.

 

EK:  So when you came here, you thought there was a good chance you could one day become head coach?

BW:  I wasn’t really sure about what the exact time frame of that was, but I thought it could be a possibility within a season or two.

 

EK:  You started this year as the assistant coach of the Pirates and have since been named interim head coach. How has this experience been for you so far?

BW:  It has been a great experience so far. We’ve had some success in the last eight games and it’s given me a lot more experience. It’s just been great all around.

 

EK:  There is a big difference in being the lead assistant and in being head coach. How have you handled the extra pressure and responsibility?

BW:  It’s not been so much the extra responsibility and pressure, I’ve been in this situation before. I was co-interim head coach at Knott County Central while the head coach was out for a little while, so I’ve had a lot of experience with that. I use that experience to go with what I’m doing now.

 

EK:  The Pirates struggled to start the season, going 3-11, but since you have taken over you are 6-1. What has changed for the team?

BW:  I think it’s all with the boys. With all our players, they realize what they are capable of doing and actually going out there and proving that to themselves and all the other teams in the region as well.

 

EK:  You had only one loss in district play, and have secured the #1 seed in the tournament. How do you feel about your chances in the tourney?

BW:  Well I really feel like that if we continue to play to the level we are playing at right now and continue to improve our defense, we have a really good shot to win the district this year. 

 

In Williams, the Pirates now have their coach for the future and all signs point to a very successful tenure with the team. He will surely do all he can to turn the Pirates into regional contenders soon and continue to keep them competitive now and for years to come.

 

 

Anthony Davis Requests Trade, Lakers Interested

ANTHONY DAVIS
(Image by Keith Allison)

 

Evan Kinser

1/28/2019

There has been some breaking news in the NBA today! Early Monday morning, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski shared a tweet revealing that New Orleans Pelicans star forward Anthony Davis has requested a trade from the team and “has no intention of signing a contract extension.” The Lakers, among almost every team in the league, will undoubtedly pursue a deal for the 25-year old big.

Davis, coming off an All-NBA First Team honor last year, has been linked to the Lakers for a while now, as he and Lakers forward LeBron James share the same agent, Rich Paul. Whether Davis has clear interest in the Lakers or not has yet to be seen, but the hiring of Paul in the offseason has led some to believe he has his sights on a pairing with James in LA.

The Lakers do have the assets to make a splash via trade this season. By signing all free agents other than James to one-year deals this offseason, the Lakers are in position to make some trades at the February 7th trade deadline.

The most likely player to be traded is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who the Lakers signed to a one-year, 12 million dollar deal last offseason. Reports came out earlier this year that the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets could be potential suitors of KCP, as both are looking for added three-point shooting. Keep an eye out for these teams in possible three-team trade scenarios.

Though KCP is an interesting trade candidate, the Pelicans will be wanting a much larger haul for Davis. As Brad Turner of the L.A. Times reported earlier, the Pelicans would want Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac, and a first round draft pick to even consider moving Davis to LA. If this deal were to go down, the Lakers would lose almost all of their young players. They could also include Brandon Ingram and/or Josh Hart in a deal, and that seems likely. Just because the Pelicans want Ball and Kuzma, that doesn’t mean the others will stay on the roster. Some could be shipped off as other teams try to join in and even out salaries.

The big question is if the Lakers are willing to go all-in for Davis. Should the Lakers give up the young core for him? Yes. Though this would surely decrease their depth, when an All-NBA player is available and you have the chance to pair him with another star, you do it. They did have a chance to acquire a star player recently when, two years ago, Paul George wanted to become a Laker, they low-balled and didn’t give their best offer. Since the Pacers were forced to look elsewhere, he found a home with the Thunder and signed a four year deal this summer (he will also start in the all-star game this year). Their most recent attempt at a star was with Kawhi Leonard, and we will know in a few months if they played that the way they should have.

The Lakers have drafted very well in the last few seasons and have rarely missed on their draft picks. This is evident, as even former second round draft pick Ivica Zubac is now considered to have trade value. Though the Lakers haven’t drafted a player that looks like a sure-fire star yet, all of their picks look like they at least belong in the league. The only player I would have a difficult time getting rid of is second year guard Lonzo Ball. Lonzo has played defense as good as anyone at his position this year, and he is still just 21 years old. If Lonzo ever develops a consistent jump shot, he could be a perennial all-star. Though Kuzma and Ingram have the more refined offensive game, Lonzo has a transcendent passing ability and would be the perfect guard for a team with elite scorers like LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Whether the Pelicans will trade Davis in the summer or at the upcoming trade deadline is yet to be seen, but we will have the answers soon. Be prepared for an exciting 10 days!

 

Week 2 NFL Game Picks

By Jimmy Canuso

 

Week 2 is a very interesting time in the NFL season. You start to form opinions on teams based on “knee-jerk” reactions you have to things that happen in the week one matchups. There are so many unknowns that make it hard to assess a team’s potential before they have made adjustments going into the rest of the season. Was the hiring of Matt Patricia a bad move for the Lions? Or is the former New England Patriots Defensive Coordinator gonna help his new team get to ten wins for the first time since 2014? Will we ever see Eli Manning in the playoffs again, or will he continue to lose very winnable games like the Jaguars in Week 1? Here are the Ball Talk Week 2 NFL picks….based solely on knee jerk reactions from week one.

 

Chiefs @ Steelers

Pick: Chiefs

 

Advanced data from pro-football-reference.com has shown that the home team in an NFL game has about a  57.2% chance of winning. The data also shows that when turnovers occur in a game, it drastically changes that win probability percentage. Each team only gets about twelve possessions per game, so it makes sense that if a home teams gets one turnover, they have a 69.6% chance of winning, and two turnovers gives them an 83.9% chance of winning. When the Steelers walked into the Dawg Pound and got 5 turnovers, they had 95.8% chance to lose the game… and they walked out with a tie. Needless to say, the Steelers played a very sloppy game. Big Ben looked like he was completely ignoring any pass rush to get sacked 4 times with two strip sacks, threw 3 interceptions with one of the better receiving cores in the league, and the Steelers had 3 fumbles lost. The Steelers also let the Browns get 6 first downs due to penalties. Luckily James Connor put up 135 yards and two rushing TDs to keep Pittsburgh in the game in his first ever NFL start, which would be miraculous for the second year running back to do again in Week 2. The Chiefs obviously looked much better in their Week 1 appearance, with new QB Patrick Mahomes connecting with Tyreek Hill 7 times for 169 yards and throwing no interceptions. The Steelers’ defense is gonna have a much bigger challenge against Andy Reid’s West Coast high efficiency passing offense than Hugh Jackson’s mediocre play calling and with Tyrod Taylor in the pocket, who led the Browns in rushing yards and completed 15 of 40 throws. I think the Steelers have the pieces to be competitive in this game, but the Chiefs look much tighter and polished right now so I’m gonna have to pick them to come out of this one victorious.

 

Texans @ Titans

Pick: Titans

Editor’s Note: This was wrote before it was announced that Marcus Mariota and Jadeveon Clowney were both inactive for the game.

 

This one won’t be very fun to watch, and these teams are fairly evenly matched, I’m picking the Titans because they have a veteran QB and they have home field advantage. I’m not ready to trust in Deshaun Watson as a good decision maker until he can get a solid win under his belt this season.

Chargers @ Bills

Pick: Chargers

 

Not a tough sell here. The Bills lost 47-3 against the Ravens in week one. Rookie Josh Allen out of Wyoming will start against the Chargers instead of Nathan Peterman, but he didn’t do anything noteworthy while he was in for the second half against Baltimore. The Chargers had an all around solid performance on offense in their loss to the Chiefs; Phillip Rivers threw for 424 yards and a 67% completion rate with one interception while Melvin Gordon contributed 64 rushing yards. If you think the Bills are winning this game, chances are you live in Buffalo and it’s wishful thinking.

 

Panthers @ Falcons

Pick: Panthers

 

I had to really think about this one. It seems as though the Falcons’ game plan on offense can be summed up pretty simply: throw to Julio Jones to get downfield, and then continue to throw to Julio Jones in the Red Zone even though he’s being triple teamed. Jones put up 169 yards in the week one matchup against the Eagles while no other receiver put up more than 30. The Falcons frustrate me because I thought RB Devonta Freeman was a beast in past years for them while it seems his usage has gone down considerably. He led in rushing with only 36 yards, and he’s not even going to be playing in week two. The Panthers don’t look much better on offense, with no player besides QB Cam Newton putting up more than 50 yards, receiving or rushing. They didn’t play considerably better than the Cowboys, but they at least ended up on top. I’m going with the Panthers here solely because they have a win under their belt and probably a higher morale going into week two. Let’s see what happens.

 

Browns @ Saints

Pick: Saints

 

It was exciting last year when the Saints started running the ball well, but since Mark Ingram is suspended for the first four games of the season, they’re back to primarily passing, with Alvin Kamara leading the team in rushing for only 29 yards in the first game. Their offense still looks good though; where Drew Brees threw for 439 yards with no interceptions or sacks an insanely efficient completion percentage of 82%. The Saints should have no problem against the Browns defense as long as Brees can continue to get the ball off quickly, but DE Myles Garrett was a beast for the Browns in Week 1 so that is something to watch for.

 

Eagles @ Buccaneers

Pick: Eagles

 

If you are reading this article, chances are you follow football, which means you’ve probably heard a lot of mania about Ryan Fitzpatrick, the backup QB for the Buccaneers who put up 417 yards at a 77% completion rate against the Saints in the midst of starting QB Jameis Winston’s 3 game suspension. While I think Fitzpatrick is a talented player, I’m not convinced based on his overall career that he’s able to be consistent and have multiple games in a row like that. Also, he likely will not be able to get those kinds of yards with Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby at cornerback for the Eagles. Ronald Darby was all over Julio Jones in Week 1 when the Eagles played the Falcons, so I don’t think he’ll have a problem handling Mike Evans. The Super Bowl Champions aren’t at full strength, with WR Alshon Jeffery and RB Darren Sproles hurt, and RB Legarrette Blount and WR Torrey Smith both being traded. Regardless of this, backup quarterback Nick Foles has been connecting well with WR Nelson Agholor, and RB Jay Ajayi has been handling a bigger workload well. Not to mention that it seems like Coach Doug Pederson’s play calling always finds a way to get them the win, the Eagles will get the higher score in this one.

 

Colts @ Redskins

Pick: Redskins

 

Luck is officially back. While throwing for 319 yards he was able find 9 different receivers in the Colts’ week one loss against the Bengals, and 3 of those receivers had over 50 yards. That’s a true sign of a solid quarterback. Any QB can connect with top ten receivers. On the other side, former Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith had an efficient game completing 21 out of his 30 pass attempts for 255 yards. Also, RB Adrian Peterson, also a new Redskin, rushed for 96 yards and a TD to dismantle the Cardinals 24-6. Peterson, one of the oldest running backs in the NFL, is also the most accomplished, and I think he still has the ability to put up consistently solid rushing performances while the Redskins have gotten by as a pass-first offense in recent years. The Colts may have a slightly better receiving depth, but not much, and they have a more mediocre running game. The Skins defense were able to hold the Cardinals to zero touchdowns and star RB David Johnson to only 37 yards, while the Colts defense gave up 34 points in Week 1. These two pass-first teams are more evenly matched than most of the other games in Week 2, but Washington holds the advantages and will win this game.

 

Dolphins @ Jets

Pick: Jets

 

The Jets destroyed the Lions 48-17 in week one. If we see the same good decision making from Jets QB Sam Darnold we saw in week 1 against the Lions (except for the pick 6), he should be able to lead this team to a win against the Dolphins.

 

Vikings @ Packers

Pick: Vikings

 

What Aaron Rodgers did in week one was nothing short of great, but I’m picking the Vikings to come out of this one on top. The Vikings have the top ranked defense in the league. And although it is arguable that the Bears have one of the better pass rushing in the league with the addition of Khalil Mack, they ran out of steam in the second half of the Week 1 game. That won’t happen with the Vikings pass rush. They’re gonna be going after Rodgers the entire game, and they’re not gonna be easy to stop. Rodgers is gonna have to get the ball off quickly again like he did in the second half against the Bears, and I don’t think he’ll be able to find those tight windows as easily like he did in those TD passes to Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb against the Vikings cornerbacks and safeties. The Vikings have more pieces on offense who can do more on the run than the Packers, whose yards will be inflated because of Rodgers immaculate ability. The Vikings will come out of this one victorious, although it could be close.

 

Cardinals @ Rams

Pick: Rams

 

Easy pick. The Cardinals weren’t really able to generate any momentum on offense against the Redskins, as they scored no touchdowns. With the Rams having a defense consisting DE Ndomukong Suh, NT Aaron Donald, CB Marcus Peters and CB Aqib Talib, the Cardinals now have a much harder secondary to face. Jared Goff had a tough time establishing the pass against the Raiders in Week 1, but Todd Gurley put up some good numbers and Goff was able to make some plays in the second half to get to 33 points for the win. The Rams won’t have much trouble winning this one.

 

Lions @ 49ers

Pick: 49ers

 

Jimmy G was able to have 260 passing yards against the Vikings defense in his first loss as a starter in Week 1, which should be much easier against the Lions defense. Lions QB Matt Stafford had a very below average performance against the Jets, new RB Legarrette Blount from the Eagles wasn’t able to do as much in his rushing performance as I thought he would, and I’m not ready to trust Matt Patricia as a good head coach, so I’m picking the 49ers to win this game.

 

Raiders @ Broncos

Pick: Raiders

 

Case Keenum had a good showing against the Seahawks in Week 1, and I expect nothing less against the Raiders defense. TE Jared Cook was the big target and playmaker for the Raiders in week one against the Rams. The Broncos are most likely game planning to shut down Cook, which means the other talented Raiders receivers Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson will be opened up and will probably get some more targets. This one will be close, but I think the Raiders have more pieces offensively, will the Broncos didn’t really establish a run in Week 1. Raiders get the pick here.

 

Patriots @ Jaguars

Pick: Patriots

The Jags barely came out of week 1 with a win against the Giants, and RB Leonard Fournette will not likely be playing for Jacksonville, so the Jags will not be able to get it done against the Patriots, who looked good in Week 1 despite WR Edelman being out. Brady was still able to throw for 277 yards with 3 passing TDs.

 

Giants @ Cowboys

Pick: Cowboys

 

The Giants put up a mediocre showing against in their los against Jacksonville in week one. Their new shiny toy Saquon Barkley had some good carries and a TD, but they might ended up regretting their decision to not get Sam Darnold, when their current QB is still seemingly on the decline. The Cowboys lost to the Panthers in week one, and it seems as though Ezekiel Elliott is the only spark in their offense. WR Cole Beasley is the only receiver Dak Prescott can connect with right now, but I think he can be a playmaker. Dak Prescott is still playing better right not than Eli is, and I’d always hesitate to not take the Cowboys at home. Cowboys will come out with this one.

 

Seahawks @ Bears

Pick: Bears

 

On the Bears defense, LB Khalil Mack will be able to generate pass rush and, if rookie LB Roquan Smith gets more playing time, Russell Wilson will be experiencing a lot of pass rush pressure and will not be able to make plays as easily as he did against the Broncos. Mitch Trubisky was phenomenal in the first half against the Packers in Week 1 against the Packers, but in the second half, head coach Matt Nagy started playing not to lose and the Bears weren’t able to get up to the momentum they had with the creative play calling they had in the first half. If Trubisky can generate the kind of passing game we saw from him in the first half of Week 1, along with Jordan Howard having another good rushing performance, the Bears should be able to win this one on Monday night.

2018 NBA Mock Draft

By Samuel Stands

Twitter: @SamuelStands

 

1.)                Suns: DeAndre Ayton—All signs are pointing toward the Suns selecting Ayton here. Let’s not waste the brain power to consider otherwise.

 

2.)               Kings: Luka Doncic—The talk surrounding the second pick has centered on Luka Doncic and Michael Porter Jr. as of late. While there is a bevy of increasing hype following Michael Porter Jr. in contrast to seemingly cool feelings toward Luka Doncic at the top of the draft, the Sacramento Kings are due to get this pick right and take the clearly best player available in the draft. Given the fact that the Kings are, for whatever reason, committed to playing two traditional posts in the front court, Michael Porter Jr. at the PF position represents a departure from that thinking which we’ve yet to see in Sacramento. The Kings are thin at the SF position given Vince Carter’s free agency, Justin Jackson and Garrett Temples’ non-contributions, Iman Shumpert’s inability to shoot, etc. This void is symptomatic of one of many larger issues, that being a lack of shot creators and playmaking. Drafting and employing Luka Doncic to operate alongside Bogdonavic, Hield, and Cauley-Stein would go a long way to help Sacramento’s third to last ranked offense and literally slowest (in pace) team in the league. Doncic running pick-n-roll with a most capable roll-man in WCS and two absolute sharpshooters from deep in Hield and Bogdonavic should become the staple of the King’s offense for years to come. If the Kings let go of Zach Randolph in 2019 and if Labissiere continues to show promise as he has, especially as a trustworthy shooter and even one who can stretch the floor, they could finally open up their offense by optimizing their pieces and become a formidably modern NBA offense.

 

3.)               Hawks: Marvin Bagley III—Choosing Marvin Bagley certainly acquiesces to the “best player available” mantra but the Pumas fit rather nicely as well. Simply put, the Hawks just need talent and upside with every pick in the draft. Bagley fits with the Hawks, more specifically alongside John Collins because he can operate out of the low post, can put it on the floor to drive, can face up with potential break down ability, he has the hint of a pull up, he can spot up which will complement Collins who is more of a PnR, dump off, clean up, spot up guy. In college, Bagley was not an EFFECTIVE defender because of his lack of awareness and know-how, but this is not the same thing as lacking capability where Bagley’s athleticism allows him to defend in space and switch which has become the more important skill for big men in the league as opposed to defending postups where the lack of incredible length isn’t as big of a concern as it used to be in the older NBA. There is a premium on modern NBA centers where the league is quickly becoming one of haves and have-nots, Atlanta will thankfully be in the former after the draft, they’ll just need to be patient as their big man of the future learns the nuances defensive fundamentals, develops a right hand, and doesn’t rush his passes.

 

4.)               Grizzlies: Michael Porter Jr.—If the Kings pass on Porter Jr., he isn’t expected to fall any further than the Grizzlies with the fourth selection. According to reports, Porter’s medicals bore positive and promising results leading to the “he’s been promised” presumptions starting with the Kings.  The common theme for this mock draft and any henceforth is that of “modernization” where the Grizzlies are in the same position as the majority of teams in the league given their needs in the frontcourt at small forward and power forward. Not only do the Grizzlies not have a long term option at either position, but they are likely to lose their primary scorer this past season in Tyreke Evans who is slated to be picked up by a contender this summer. Memphis can take steps to shoring up both with combo forward Michael Porter Jr. whose calling card is versatile scoring. This pick is critical for a franchise that may lose its first round pick next year (2019) to Boston if the pick falls anywhere from 9-30. If the Grizzlies run it back with their incumbent parts plus the addition of Porter, serious faith would be being placed on the ever-injured Parsons, recently injured Conley, and the recent draft pick who played less than a handful of games at Missouri this year. With a fairly deep 2018 crop, it would behoove Memphis to sell valued commodities Marc Gasol and Mike Conley for draft picks or young pieces as opposed to the rumored trade back in the draft just to get out of Parson’s hefty contract. It also seems optimal to start the rebuild around Porter and guarantee their first round pick in 2019 that is full of guards and small forwards. I must say I don’t love this pick for the Grizzlies given the bigs they’d be passing up, but perhaps the reports about Memphis’ infatuation is a matter of a franchise actually enamored with Porter who will also take on Parsons’ contract (most likely the Chicago Bulls).

 

5.)               Mavericks: Mo Bamba—Chalk up the Dallas Mavericks as another team that needs to begin a complete rebuild. Unlike the Grizzlies however, the Mavericks do not have veteran assets they can sell to contenders for picks or projects thus necessitating patience until next summer when they can shed most of their less desirable contracts. As of now, Dallas is getting the most production out of Dennis Smith, Yogi Ferrell, and Harrison Barnes who is transitioning to the power forward position full time as Dirk Nowitzki has all but both feet in the grave of retirement which leaves a gaping hole at the center position. With that said, the Mavs should be thrilled if Mo Bamba falls all the way to fifth selection in the draft. We are all well aware of Bamba’s physical gifts but his intangibles and potential sewn to his stature are what making the most promising triumvirate of future success which is why I have him atop my big board. As already stated, there is a premium on modern big men in the NBA and Bamba has the attributes to be the next “unicorn” draft pick following Karl Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid, and Anthony Davis. Mo Bamba’s floor seems to be Clint Capela assuming that he doesn’t develop at all. The Mavs will have their anchor down low but I see him as their franchise star for the next 12-15 years if Dallas is smart enough to do what it takes to retain him.

 

6.)               Magic: Jaren Jackson Jr.—The Magic couldn’t be luckier if one of Mo Bamba or Jackson or fall to them at the sixth slot. Many have the Magic taking Trae Young at this spot, some even believe and are reporting that Trae Young will go as high as the third spot to the Atlanta Hawks if they are unable to trade back for the Oklahoma point guard but I am not nearly as high on Young as I am on others: namely, Jaren Jackson Jr.. Jackson is ranked third on my big board, this should be an easy decision here when adhering to best player available doctrine. Jackson is, as others have countlessly said, the prototypical modern NBA center who can spread the floor, protect the rim, switch on PnR, defend in space, and is low maintenance offensively; simply put, Jaren Jackson Jr. can be the next Al Horford and the one constant for the Orlando Magic which they haven’t had since…The Magic could have a devastatingly long and switchy defensive front court in Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, and Jaren Jackson Jr. that no team in the league could rival in that respect which would be a great starting point for an abysmal Magic team post-Dwight. As any GM, at least in the high lottery, I would be quite wary to add a sub-6’2 defensive liability at point guard in a league that consistently is going bigger and longer and more versatile, therefore I cannot in good conscience mock Trae Young to Orlando as a positive decision. Orlando desperately needs to get this pick right and can concern themselves with the backcourt in the guard-heavy 2019 draft class where we know that the Magic will doubtlessly be atop the lottery yet again.

 

7.)               Bulls: Miles Bridges—Ultimately I see the Bulls trading up to nab Michael Porter Jr. but the fact remains that the Bulls need forwards desperately and Bridges would provide much needed versatility on both ends of the floor. Bridges is capable of playing both forward spots but in opposition to every bit of draft analysis that says he is best suited as a small-ball power forward despite his body (lack of length, height), I see his long term productivity coming at small forward. Bridges may not possess Porter’s creativity or Mikal Bridges’ safety as a three & D role player, but does a little bit of everything rather well. Villanova’s Bridges would certainly be a safe pick here but that Bridges is already the player he is going to be where Miles Bridges has the potential to be a go-to scorer off the dribble, spot-up shooter, lob threat, to draw the defense on drives with his explosiveness, the capability to finish with that explosiveness, and the ever important ability to capably defend 2-4’s in the NBA. Bridges will be an actual threat to keep defenses honest as another playmaker while Zach Lavine is tasked with carrying the load of being the franchise player.

 

8.)                Cavs: Wendell Carter Jr.—Carter will end up being considered one of the steals of the draft when it is all said and done given his readiness to contribute in the NBA right now. It has already been discussed repeatedly that Carter played out of position at Duke whereas in the NBA he will thrive as a natural in the center position. Like many others already discussed, Carter provides what teams want and desperately need from their big men: rim protection, a big “man’s” body, ability to stretch the floor, can eat in the post, can face up, can defend down low, sets big screens, rolls hard, can pop, can pick the defense apart with passing, plays under control, and absolutely bangs on the boards. Carter’s major concern that gets pointed out is his struggles to defend in space. While Carter did get burned, it was not in my opinion due to an inability or lack of athleticism, as much as it was a matter of defensive technique which is sorely lacking at this point in time. The Cavs don’t hesitate to make and keep this pick because Carter represents a win now choice (were Lebron to stay) because of his well-rounded game but also can and will serve as the franchise cornerstone regardless of Lebron’s departure as a modern five which could not be more in demand.

 

9.)                  Knicks: Mikal Bridges—Yes, Trae Young would be the sexy pick here but it also would be one of the worst outcomes for Young and the Knicks. The smart pick is Mikal Bridges. New head coach David Fizdale has already remarked that he will play Porzingis all over the floor, most notably at the five where, if you’ve been reading all this time, is where (IMO) he should be playing all of his minutes. Were New York to bring back Michael Beasley and draft Mikal Bridges, the Knicks could be looking at a modern front court that can open up enough space on the floor which just may start enticing free agents the way Boston has and the way the Lakers and 76ers are slated to this summer. Longer term, the Knicks will, at the least, have two promising defensive staples in Frank Ntilikina and Mikal Bridges to bolster Porzingis (who is a more than solid defender on his own) as the last line of defense. With the hiring of a reputable coach and the selection of Bridges, the beginning of stability for a franchise that has been in desperate need can commence on Thursday.

 

 

10.)                        Sixers: Lonnie Walker—Despite the fact that the Sixers just had a significant playoff run and are now seeming contenders in the Eastern Conference (all the more with Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard rumors), the Sixers core is considerably young with ample time and room to grow. All of this is to say, the Sixers certainly don’t need to trade this pick in some sort of package to attain a superstar; the Sixers already have two in the making, last year’s number one pick who was at the time considered a can’t miss prospect, and four young role players who have carved out niches in the Sixers’ rotation (Saric, Covington, McConnell, Holmes), and by the way their oldest rotation player is only 26 years old. There is however a glaring hole at shooting guard especially with the potential JJ Redick departure in free agency and to a lesser extent Marco Belinelli’s. With the selection of Lonnie Walker, the Sixers would gain two players who can create their own shot, something that was sorely missing in the playoffs. The return of a healthy Fultz and the emergence of Lonnie Walker will help keep defenses honest after the league has had a year to adjust to Ben Simmons. Obviously Walker can initially serve as the spot-up shooter, and shooter off of screens like Redick who has made a career doing it, but Walker’s athleticism and explosiveness allow him to become a terror in transition and a lockdown defender when engaged. At the end of the day, assuming the Sixers stand put with their young core without making a big free agency or trade splash, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid ought to carry the load and the Philly brass just needs to help lighten it where it counts.

 

11.) Hornets: Collin Sexton—The Hornets have one of the bleakest long term outlooks of any team in the league as they don’t have any assets they can auction off to begin a rebuild except for Kemba Walker whose value depreciates every second that he isn’t traded given his contract will be up in 2019. Nicolas Batum is a nice starter but his contract is a liability. Dwight Howard is also a free agent in 2019 but also has a bloated contract and he is also Dwight Howard. Last year’s draft pick Malik Monk may be a serviceable spark plug off the bench someday but doesn’t exactly empower confidence in the roster going forward. I like Sexton here because of his mentality. Yes he has all sorts of gifts as a scorer and defender but I believe he is one of few players in this draft range that will have the stamina to survive the Hornets’ long term rebuild. The Hornets have the chance to define the identity of their team starting with Sexton and building from there and I can see Sexton as one capable of driving a young core gradually out of the bottom of the standings over the years with his relentless competitiveness and hard work. The other players available at this stage of the draft have games that complement others but not as the first piece.

 

12.)                        Clippers: Trae Young—The Clippers’ veterans offer the best opportunity in Trae Young’s draft range (which by all accounts seems to be 3-16) to optimize Young’s potential in a safe setting. Los Angeles’ back court duo of Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley, not only allow Young the comfort of being brought along slowly off the bench as opposed to being thrown in the fire immediately, Williams can teach him the plurality of ways to get buckets as a smaller scoring guard (something Young is already impressive in) while Beverley can assist him with his defensive deficiencies and go at him every day in practice while complementing him on the court picking up the more difficult assignments during the rigorous 82 game season. The Clippers are said to be major players to potentially make a impactful trade to once again be in contention, as their roster is indeed built for such a possibility given its veteran roster and ability to bring back DeAndre Jordan but I see Jerry West wanting to start from scratch given that they can almost have a complete roster turnover by 2019.

 

 

13.)                        Clippers: Zhaire Smith—Smith represents another boom or bust prospect that has the best opportunity to flourish in the same setting mentioned above. A Zhaire Smith and Trae Young back court is enticing given how they can play off of one another: Young has sound court vision, shooting chops, and ability to run the pick and roll while Smith is an excellent cutter, solid spot up shooter, solid shooter coming off of screens, lob threat, one who can flat out fly in the open court, and can more than capably defend in isolation and help in team defense schemes which Young is going to need for the foreseeable future. Many have the Clippers taking Robert Williams with one of these two picks but I can’t imagine Jerry West selecting a duplication of DeAndre Jordan who (a) they could retain this summer or (b) has a lot of value to a certain point but not enough to spend a lottery pick on.

 

14.)                        Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander—While the Nuggets are in need of a true small forward, Kevin Knox isn’t a true 3 and Troy Brown isn’t worth the reach, therefore the possibility of shoring up their defensive woes in the backcourt is too enticing. Jamal Murray is one of the top ten offensive guards in the league but at the same time is one of the bottom ten defensive guards in the league. While I have Gilgeous-Alexander ahead of both Collin Sexton and Trae Young on my big board for his size, length, shooting potential, decision-making, defense, and positional size in a league that, you guessed it, is trending larger and longer, I can see him falling past his true value because of his utter silence during the pre-draft process and lack of a major standout skill. Gilgeous-Alexander will undoubtedly benefit in a more stable role without expectations of saving a franchise as the higher picks are expected. I love his fit next to Gary Harris who in tandem can make life difficult for opposing backcourts but also his helpful fit alongside Jamal Murray and of course the possibility of three guard lineups employing the aforementioned players. If I’m the Denver GM I also like the probability that SGA makes the starting point guard spot competitive where that competition may inspire more defensive productivity out of Murray, and if it doesn’t, Murray would make an excellent Sixth Man off the bench.

 

15.)                         Wizards: Kevin Knox—Like Trae Young, I like Kevin Knox’s potential if he gets drafted by the right team that doesn’t thrust upon him too much too soon. Others have Kevin Knox going as high as 10th in the draft, but as the youngest player in the draft, it’s going to take Knox some time and patience and managed expectations before he breaks out. With that said, there is a lot to like about Kevin Knox as he is the prototypical modern power forward who can score in a variety of ways but most importantly spread the floor. Knox also has potential to be a defensive plus given his tools but didn’t always show it at Kentucky, however, Coach Cal’s kids always out-perform their college roles so I’m not overly concerned. The Wizards should be viable contenders if one looks at their cap sheet given what they are paying Wall, Beal, and Porter, but this is a young team that can afford to be patient with the player they draft, where that patience will eventually pay dividends when Knox grows into himself. I also like this selection for the Wizards’ immediate boost off the bench which has been cause for concern for the past several years. This pick also allows for the Wizards to employ a very athletic front court in Porter and Knox who are viable options to keep Wall from pounding the ball. Most drafts do not have Robert Williams falling beyond the Wizards but I find that pick one that would be made too much out of desperation as opposed to the best possible decision to make the Wizards legitimately dangerous in the next 2-3 years.

 

16.)                        Suns: Elie Okobo—The Suns really really really verily need a point guard. Aaron Holiday has had two workouts in Phoenix and I think that ends up being their pick on Thursday as the safe long term prospect, but here I have them going for the bigger play, Elie Okobo. If you haven’t watched any of Okobo in France, imagine a shorter and French D’Angelo Russell. Okobo is a solid shooter beyond the arc, is a maestro running the pick n roll, has good court vision, and can score in bunches. I like this pick for Phoenix in going for the highest upside with this pick just outside of the lottery especially given the fact that their team is so young; there is absolutely zero reason for the Suns to rush the process in drafting complete prospects.

 

 

17.)                         Bucks: Kevin Huerter—Sure, the Bucks have a need at center and Robert Williams could fill that hole, but they need shooting and spacing too whereas I believe they’ll be able to land a legitimate center in free agency. Well, Kevin Huerter is the best shooter in the draft and would give the Bucks more gravitational pull that isn’t centered on Giannis when he’s playing on the ball. The Bucks could do worse than surrounding Giannis with Brogdon, Middleton, Tony Snell, and Huerter to get easier drive and dish opportunities but also to unclog the lane.

 

18.)                        Spurs: Josh Okogie—I’m surprised Okogie isn’t getting mocked higher than his usual 24-35 range. Okogie has elite athleticism, combine testing results and measurements, ability to guard 1-3, can shoot it from deep, provides weak side rim protection, receives adulation from his former coaching staff and teammates as the energy guy, and has a blossoming in-between game putting it on the floor getting his own shot. Okogie has Spurs written all over him and is one of the younger prospects in the draft despite playing two years of college ball. Okogie is raw with loads of untapped potential.

 

 

19.)                        Hawks: Aaron Holiday—The Hawks are likely to send Dennis Schroder off one way or another and will need a replacement, ideally one who can actually shoot and keep defenses honest. Holiday is also a more than capable off-ball threat who will gel nicely with his long-term partner-to-be Marvin Bagley III in the front court. Holiday will add maturity and much needed professionalism on a team fraught with young players and few veterans. Holiday is the stable, safe, and smart pick here providing guaranteed value where there isn’t always toward the end of the first round.

 

20.)                       Wolves: Keita Bates-Diop—Tom Thibodeau is going to select Luol Deng 2.0. isn’t he? Ok.

 

 

21.)                        Jazz: Robert Williams—The Jazz are set to potentially lose two of their bigs in Derrick Favors this summer and Ekpe Udoh in 2019 free agency slating Williams to become a rotation player immediately. The Jazz won’t complain that the best player still available also can slip right behind Rudy Gobert as the Jazz’s long term backup center and insurance policy incase Gobert has eyes elsewhere some day.

 

22.)                       Bulls: Chandler Hutchison—the Bulls have promised to draft Chandler Hutchison. Ok.

 

23.)                       Pacers: Troy Brown—I would love for one of Holiday or Okobo to fall to the Pacers but I don’t think the teams ahead of them are that foolish. The Pacers should continue to build around Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner who are just scratching the surface of their potential so a young player like Troy Brown fits nicely, especially in the wake of Paul George’s departure last summer. Indiana could do worse than a shooting guard, small forward, point guard hybrid who does everything well right now except shoot at only 18 years of age. Brown can help take some of the facilitating and creating burden off of Oladipo while they wait for their point guard of the future next year.

 

24.)                       Blazers: Jerome Robinson—I love this fit! Though it is beyond me, some mocks are starting to have Jerome Robinson go as high as 13th to the Clippers but this is buying really high and trying too hard to land the next Kyle Kuzma or Jimmy Butler, etc. There is certainly reason for Robinson to get an NBA Draft green room invite because he absolutely is a first round talent and the Blazers will need every bit of him on a cheap contract while they trudge through salary cap hell for a few more years. Portland could use some help in the backcourt and Robinson will oblige from the get go as he can heat it up and start cooking in a hurry with a deep bag of tricks offensively to get his own shot but he also will help spread the floor for Lillard and McCollum where I can see a three guard lineup to close out games; yes Robinson is that dangerous right now.

 

25.)                        Lakers: Mitchell Robinson—I don’t believe the Lakers have actually made any sort of promise to Robinson but I do find this to be best selection they can make given the picks that will have occurred in front of them. There are major concerns about Robinson’s maturity and camp that surrounds him given his peculiar decisions after finishing high school, but the Lakers, like everyone else in the draft, must put a premium on modern big men available where Los Angeles is in a position to take a gamble on upside since (a) the Lakers are potentially on the path for a long term rebuild and (b) they may trade this pick anyhow or (c) LA will retain this pick and thusly player but have him buried on the depth chart because of the superstar cast that will call Staples Center home. At this stage in the draft, I wouldn’t blame any team going after a 7 footer with elite quickness, athleticism, second jump superiority, shot blocking prowess, ability to switch on screens, the ability to stretch the floor out to the three point line, and ability to throw down lobs like it’s nothing to him. Robinson could be one of many steals late in the draft.

 

26.)                       Sixers: Donte Divincenzo—The Sixers are able to pluck one of two from their own backyard out of Villanova. In the actual draft I think the Sixers end up with Mikal Bridges and just miss out on Divincenzo in the early 20s but I think Philly is a good home for him. I would try to surround Ben Simmons with as many shooters as possible and Divincenzo certainly provides that but he is also an underrated defender (though he is more of a team defender than a lockdown one on one guy) but the Sixers get a two way guy who will earn a rotation spot and round out their guard depth with Fultz, Walker, McConnell, and now Divincenzo. They’ll continue to love him in Philly.

 

 

27.)                        Celtics: Khyri Thomas—Terry Rozier and/or Jaylen Brown could end up part or parts of a major trade while Marcus Smart is a restricted free agent so I like the Celtics’ insurance policy in Khyri Thomas. Were any one of the aforementioned players to find themselves in a different jersey next season, the Celtics would sorely miss the defense provided Thomas could help mitigate the possible loss or losses on a cheap contract as he was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year two years in a row, shot over 40% from deep all three years at Creighton, finished in the 90th percentile at the rim (pun intended), and 80th percentile in transition. Steal. The rich get richer.

 

28.)                       Warriors: Jacob Evans—Wow, the league is really going to let Jacob Evans fall into the Warriors’ lap. SMH

 

 

29.)                       Nets: De’Anthony Melton—The Nets are still a long way away from some sort of young core or sense of stability so drafting a combo guard with lottery level talent is a good place to start at the end of the first round. Melton can heat up opposing guards on the ball, plays the passing lanes, can get gone in a hurry in transition, rebounds well in comparison to other guards, can handle the ball, can finish in traffic, and has a blossoming jump shot with altered mechanics where teams have reason to believe he will improve given his free throw shooting in college.

 

30.)                       Hawks: Anfernee Simons—With another selection four picks into the second round, the Hawks can go ahead and snag Simons before the pickings get slim around the 40 spot. Simons has the first round level athleticism and handles, but his body is not nearly NBA ready. Given the Hawks’ situation in the league however, Atlanta can afford to give Simons the reps he needs to grow at a prodigious pace in comparison to organizations in the league that see him as a G-league stash player. Given the opportunity, Simons may be ready sooner rather than later.

NBA Second Round Playoff Preview

Evan Kinser & Jimmy Canuso

The NBA Playoffs are the time of year that casual NBA fans turn into avid fans. It’s when avid fans lives are absolutely consumed with switching between TNT and ESPN, while still keeping an eye on the top of the screen to see the little score guide. We usually just love the Western Conference first round games because there is a chance for someone to make a big run. The East? Not as exciting. There is a guy up in Cleveland that likes to spoil teams hopes of getting out of the East. Some of you may know him as King James, LBJ, or if you like Sports Illustrated, it might be “The Chosen One.” But this year seems different for LeBron and the Cavs. They aren’t the so-called “favorite” this year, being a 4 seed and going to a Game 7 in the first round. With a much tougher East this year, (thanks to the rapid growth of the Philadelphia 76ers and consistency from the Raptors) it doesn’t look like this will be a cake walk to the Finals for LeBron. Who will win the East though? Evan Kinser and Jimmy Canuso share their thoughts on that and the Western Conference Playoffs:

 

EK: I personally like the 76ers, it seems like their time has FINALLY come. They don’t need to wait on anybody else to join them and Joel Embiid doesn’t think so either. It’s crazy to think that this team won only 10 games just 2 seasons ago and finished as the 2nd worst team in the Eastern Conference last season. Regardless of how you feel about “The Process,” the 76ers are fun to watch and are winning ball games! Ben Simmons feels like a future all-timer, Joel Embiid is the 3rd best player in the East to me, Saric can do just about everything, JJ Redick can shoot with the best of them, and Brett Brown empowers the players and lets them do their thing. This roster feels like the team of the future, and unless LeBron’s teammates step up, the 76ers should be in the Finals come July. I know there are doubts surrounding the Sixers because of their game one performance against the Celtics. But I don’t think THIS Celtics team has enough fire-power to knock of Embiid and the 76ers. Their game one performance was something for the ages, but it will take than and more to advance to the conference finals.

 

JC: I would have to agree that the 76ers are playing at the highest level of all of the teams in the Eastern Conference. They came into this playoff with so much momentum, a 16 game win streak. During this stretch, the driving force of their team, Ben Simmons, averaged double digits in both points and assists. Marco Belinelli, an off the bench role-player who got more minutes with the loss of Embiid, emerged from the season as the 5th leading scorer for the team, and is the 4th leading scorer for the team in the postseason. And even Justin Anderson, an off the bench guard who averaged 5 PPG this season, had a couple 20+ point games in there. This just goes to show the depth of this team, and that everyone from the top guy to the bottom can step up and play.

 

Of the two second round matchups in the East, which series intrigues you more: Celtics vs 76ers or Raptors vs Cavs?

 

EK: It’s gotta be Raptors/Cavs for me. With Boston being without Kyrie Irving and another key rotational player Daniel Theis, I just really don’t see them putting up much of a fight against the Celtics. As we saw in the first round, they can still win games (won series against Bucks 4-3), but they clearly aren’t the team they would be with Kyrie. If the roster had the healthy pieces that were available, this series would be a different story. Depending on health (and the LeBron situation), this is looking more and more likely that this will be next years Eastern Conference Finals matchup.

Speaking of Raptors/Cavs series, the fact that Raptors have closed the gap on the Cavs means this series may also go to a 7th game. A crazy stat is that no player on the Cavs scored over 20 in any of the 7 first round games against the Pacers, and without the additional help I don’t see the Cavs stopping Lowry and Derozan. As we have seen in the past, the Raptors aren’t the same team that they are in the regular season during the playoffs. But, I believe the combination of experience and a dynamic bench, this may be their year to finally get past LeBron. This series will come down to which team can make the bigger shots. Just having LeBron always gives you a shot to win, but he can only do so much. LeBron is averaging his most points per game (34.4 ppg)in the playoffs since the 2008-09 playoffs (35.3 ppg). In retrospective, the Cavs second and third best players that year were (drum roll please) Mo Williams and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Pretty impressive supporting cast, huh? This year’s supporting cast has been highlighted by the 11.4 ppg of Kevin Love and the 8.3 ppg of Kyle Korver. Take this into consideration: Toronto’s 4th best player, Jonas Valančiūnas, would likely be the Cavs second best this series.

 

JC: The Cavs/Raptors series will be the more interesting series to watch in the Eastern Semi-Final round. There are a lot of important factors playing into who will come out the victor. The Cavs and the Raptors have faced off in the playoffs the past two postseasons in the Eastern Conference finals, both of which were won by the Cavs. However, the circumstances are a little bit different this year. The Cavs are leaning on Lebron James a lot more than they have in past seasons and we have yet to see anyone else on the Cavs roster have a notable performance in the postseason. The only other player that has averaged double-digit points besides James is Kevin Love. Love still isn’t very reliable right now; his 3-point shot and field goal percentages are down a lot from last season, and he has been very inconsistent. The Raptors, on the other hand, are dealing with a lot of depth on their roster, with everyone who has been playing over 23 minutes a game averaging double digit points (with the exception of Serge Ibaka, a huge contributor on defense). The other factor here is 3 point shooting. When the Cavs swept the Raptors last postseason, they shot a ridiculous 47 percent from beyond the arc while taking 41 percent of their shots from that territory, which led to them outscoring the Raptors by an average of 25.5 points per game during the series. This season however, the Raptors have stepped up their ability to defend/prevent 3-point shooting. During the regular season, they allowed only 29 percent of opponents shots to be taken from beyond the arc, which was the second lowest in the league. They also only allowed the Wizards to take 26 percent of their shots from beyond the arc in the first round. If they can defend the same way against the Cavs, this series will be a much different story. The Raptors also have a much better 3-point game than last season. Finally, the Cavs in the previous two postseasons have come into their series with the Raptors with a good amount of rest and time off from the first round, whereas this year they barely squeezed by the Pacers in 7 games, with Lebron putting up an exhausting 45 point performance in game 7. The bottom line here is that the Cavs always have a chance as long as King James is on their team, but James is merely human, so any inconsistency on his part will lead to the Raptors inevitably coming out on top and heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Now I initially thought the Sixers would be able to dominate the Celtics in this series. They are indefinitely without leading scorer Kyrie Irving and without second leading scorer Jaylen Brown for game 1. They also barely squeezed by the 7 seed Bucks in 7 games, while the Sixers cruised past the Heat in 5. It turns out this series could be more interesting than I expected after the Celtics dominated the Sixers 117 to 101 with Rozier, Tatum, and Horford scoring a combined 83 points. They also had a combined 72 points in the last game of their round 1 series against the Bucks. However, I believe there are some very simple reasons why this won’t be the story come game two and beyond. First of all, it was obvious that the Sixers were heavily slacking on defense, allowing way to may open shots and focusing too much on preventing dribble penetration while failing to contest outside shots. They were also being lazy on the offensive end, putting up low percentage shots and failing to find good open shots. As we’ve seen this season, 3 point shooting is one of the main predictors of the Sixers’ success in games. In game 1, the Sixers shot 19.2% from the 3 point line, which is similar to the 19.4% they shot against the Heat in game 2 when they lost to them, while the Celtics shot a blazing 48.6% from downtown, with guard 2Terry Rozier contributing with 7 made threes out of 9 attempts to shoot 78%. Because of Philly’s inability to shoot the long ball in game one, they had to rely heavily on Joel Embiid’s performance in the post. Embiid had to put up a 31 point, 13 rebound, and 5 assist performance just for the Sixers to stay in the game. In the postgame press conference, Embiid said “Defensively, we were unlike ourselves. But next game we just got to be aggressive and play tough defense.” Scary Terry will continue to be hot throughout the rest of the series, but if the Sixers start to play like themselves again and contain Rozier, this series will go to Philly. Brown could also be a problem as an added 3 point threat, but the Sixers simply need to work harder to contest these outside shots.

Have Eastern Conference Playoffs been more entertaining than the West?

 

EK: Not much debate here. In the West, only one series went to a Game 6, and if you watched that wildly entertaining Jazz/Thunder series, you would know that Game 5 had belonged to the Jazz before Paul George and Russell Westbrook went off (34 & 45 points respectively). On the other hand, the East had two series go to a Game 7, and one went to a Game 6. Because the West is so top-heavy, the playoffs can get a tad boring while in the East it is typically everyone against LeBron. I would say that for me the most entertaining series was definitely the Jazz/Thunder series, but I was mostly entertained in seeing the Thunder disband into THE ABYSS OF SUPER TEAMS PAST (see 2012-13 Lakers). We all know Paul George is coming to the Lakers, right? RIGHT?!?!? But seeing Donovan Mitchell light up the Thunder and seeing Westbrook shoot 19 three’s (his 7 attempts per game from three are still down from his 9.8 attempts last year) will be the best thing to come of this years playoffs.

 

JC: I’d have to agree that watching Donovan Mitchell continuously dismantle the Thunder defense off the dribble and put up 22 points in a single quarter as a rookie was a pleasure to watch. However, the Eastern conference series has been more entertaining to watch overall. Watching the rivalry unfold between Lebron and Lance Stephenson of the Pacers was always interesting. The Cavs and Pacers series, which went to a game 7, was so back and forth that I could never say definitively who had a better chance of coming out on top. Again, the Cavs are, and will continue to be for the rest of their 2018 run, a team whose success is based on the performance of Lebron James. James has a good team around him, but they fail to be consistent in terms, the Pacers had an almost 20 point win in game one, but that was shrugged off by most to be due to a lackluster effort by King James. But then when the Pacers put up a 121-87 performance in Game 6, I favored the Pacers to pull through in game 7, until Lebron had a 45 point performance and carried his team to victory. The Eastern conference was also more entertaining because of all of the unpredictability. In the West, you knew Harden was gonna be hot all the way and get the Rockets to the second round, Anthony Davis would dominate in the paint and be too much for the Trailblazers to handle, and that the Warriors would be the Warriors. Then there was the East. Sports analysts were all over the place with how the Celtics-Bucks series would turn out with the Celtics being without Kyrie and the Bucks having their full roster, but a different coach. The Bucks, who are also one of the worst rated defenses in the NBA, never let up, and the Celtics ended up having a tough, well-fought, 7 game series that they escaped to make it to the second round. The 76ers, who were arguably playing at the highest of any team in the East coming into this series, were still very questionable because of the inexperience they have on their roster, with most of their highest scoring players never having been to the playoffs, but they still were able to get by the Heat. Even the one seed Raptors were given a run for their money from the 8 seed Wizards, with John Wall and Bradley Beal having a couple ridiculously high scoring games. The eastern conference matchups coming up in the second round shouldn’t be any less exciting.

 

Will it be the Rockets or the Warriors advancing to the Finals?

 

EK: If you take anything from the play of the Warriors and Rockets from Game 1, it should be that these teams mean business. It is yet to be determined what Steph Curry that the Warriors will be getting once he returns from injury, but for now I am giving the edge to the defending champ Warriors. I’m not betting against a team with 2 of the top 5 players in the world and the team that has won the West 3 straight seasons. Now do I think the Rockets have no chance to advance? No. But this will be a tall task for the Rockets if they plan on pulling the minor upset. This SHOULD be the best matchup in the playoffs this year, including the Finals. The Rockets provide the greatest threat to the KD-era Warriors since being assembled because they are obsessed with “beating the Warriors.” This team was built just to knock off the reigning champs and it looks like Daryl Morey has put the Rockets in position to at least take this series to 7 games. The Rockets have the most notable names for a bench in the league, with 6 proven vets (Joe Johnson, Nene, Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, Luc Mbah a Moute, and PJ Tucker) providing solid defense and shot making. Whether or not they actually become the first team to knock off the Warriors in the west bracket since 2014, this team has been very impressive & should continue to improve.

JC:  I would have to say that I can’t jump to any conclusions until I see how Steph Curry plays this series coming off of his injury. However, the Warriors have more than made up for the absence of their star point guard. And now that Iguodala is back to playing full minutes, I couldn’t bring myself to vote against them matching up with the Rockets, who lost in six games to the San Antonio Spurs in the semi-finals last year. If the Rockets are going to win this thing, however, they are going to have to win it defensively. The Rockets have a 2-1 record against the Warriors in the regular season. In the one game the Rockets lost, Klay Thompson and Steph went off from beyond the arc in the 4th quarter to pull out a 124 to 114 victory. The Rockets have to contest outside the perimeter like their lives depend on it. And if James Harden and the Rockets just keep doing what they’ve been doing offensively, they will stand a chance to take down the Warriors.
All Stats Via www.basketball-reference.com