In my usual half-rapid fire, half-prose form, I’m here today with another edition of The Boots. Again, for those unfamiliar with this feature, I assign loosely defined “Boot Up” or “Boot Down” votes to trending topics in the sports world. I’m feeling some Tuesday basketball talk today.
Boot Up: #TankStrong — Stop me if you’ve heard this in the past few weeks: There’s an incredible logjam in the No. 3-11 spots in the NBA Draft Lottery positioning right now. With the abysmal Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic clearly landing the No. 1 and No. 2 best odds, in some order, the bulk of the rest of the lottery is still very much up in the air with three weeks to go.
In an effort to break down the end-of-season standings that will determine the probabilistic odds related to the NBA Draft Lottery, here’s a quick-ish look at these intriguing nine teams:
|Rk||Team||W||L||Pct||GB||Left||JH Rt||JH Rk|
The “JH” Rating and Ranking both refer to John Hollinger, whose proprietary standings still exist at ESPN.com despite the fact he now works for the Memphis Grizzlies. When these standings were unveiled, Hollinger wrote a primer that unveiled the formula’s key components: Efficiency differential, strength of schedule, home/road splits and emphasizing more recent games over earlier ones. In essence, it acts as a more accurate depiction of a team’s true standing than just winning percentage alone.
In this outlook, while the Cavs rank No. 3 in current positioning, they actually should be No. 5, per Hollinger1. Both Phoenix and Detroit have been substantially worse, although all three teams remain rather cold of late. After these three teams however, there appears to be a somewhat natural divide. So for now, it might just be possible to simply focus on the Cavs, Suns and Pistons for top-5 positioning the rest of the way, as opposed to all nine of these squads in the top-11.
While on the NBA Draft Lottery topic, I’ve previously stated my always-sure-to-be controversial take on its worth. I’ll give an alternate take this time around, however: Maybe it makes sense to invest in a weighted system? With Charlotte and Orlando being so far behind, do they deserve a proportional share of ping pong balls? Just throwing it out there, as there might be a larger winning percentage gap between No. 2 and No. 3 as there is between No. 3 and No. 11. The current system still doesn’t seem right to me, with all those odds at stake.
Boot Down: Draft prospects in the tournament — With a 15-seed making the Sweet 16 for the first time, this has been one of the most exciting NCAA tournaments ever. But alas, with such upsets, and the already established parity in college basketball this year, it means we have one looming caveat: Only one of the top six players on my latest NBA Draft Aggregate Big Board are still playing.
Yes, in total, five of the relatively consensus top-11 are still in action. But the lack of heavy-hitting dominating prospects still left in the tournament is making waves in the media. As often happens in college basketball, fundamentally sound teams without stars continue to advance (See: Louisville, Miami), while one-man back-and-forth squads fade early (See: UNLV, UCLA). Similar to my updates on Jan. 6 and March 2, here is the latest aggregate big board:
At the top, Kansas’ Ben McLemore and Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel are still virtually 1A and 1B. Despite Noel’s recent ACL tear and lack of primetime minutes unlike the Kansas’ team, I think he’ll emerge as the No. 1 pick. His potential is unmatched in a draft class seemingly lacking any long-term stars as he’s by far the youngest on this board. He’d be an excellent fit for a Cavaliers squad struggling with interior defense.
Meanwhile, the No. 3-6 players all flamed out in epic fashion during the tournament. UNLV’s Anthony Bennett’s defense and energy worry me long-term, while I’m surprisingly on Camp John Krolik about why folks love Marcus Smart so much — he’s the second-youngest on this board, but his efficiency really concerns me. I’m still a huge fan of Georgetown’s Otto Porter, as our friend @ClevTA shared last time, but in the opposite corner, this week’s revelations about UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad’s age and background will be certain to concern some teams in June.
In the rest of the list, Maryland’s Alex Len continues to fade, as his Maryland Terrapins failed to make the NCAA tournament. But alas, thanks to the efforts of Xavier transfer Dez Wells, they’re still alive in the NIT, despite Len still averaging only 7.0 field goal attempts in postseason play2. Michigan’s Trey Burke is the high-riser, jumping into this range of players as he emerges as the most consistent and possibly best point guard in the nation. If the Wolverines strike an upset, and even more people see his high level of play, I wouldn’t be shocked if he reaches the top-5 in June.
The next grouping of players includes the following: Duke’s Mason Plumlee, Baylor’s Isaiah Austin, France’s Rudy Gobert and Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk. Again, this draft is filled to the brim with intriguing supplemental talents, but no sure-fire stars. If the Cavs do end up with the Lakers’ mid-first-round pick, I’m not certain who I’d like the most. There still are lots of question marks about players declaring for the draft and the Cavs’ intentions with their first selection.
Boot Up: John Wall — Despite the bigger NBA storyline of massive winning streaks galore (more on this momentarily), there might not be a hotter player in professional basketball than John Wall. Just take a look at his stat-line from Monday night vs. Memphis3: 47 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 18-22 FGs, 2-4 3Ps, 19-24 FTs. The last person to post a 47-8-7 line was LeBron James on Feb. 3, 2011.
Enough with the records, though. Let’s go with this not-as-hyperbolic-as-you-might-think statement: Wall is in the midst of the best stretch of his short career. Now in his third year out of Kentucky, the former No. 1 pick is averaging 25.0 points, 9.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 58.0% (!!) efficiency field goal percentage in his past nine games. This run began with his efficient 27-14-7 performance on March 12 in a narrow loss to the Cavaliers at the Q.
The knocks on Wall early in his NBA career were that he was constantly injured, inefficient and had yet to really transform into an All-Star-caliber guard. He returned back to action on Jan. 12 this season. His career averages before this streak: 16.0 points, 8.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.4% efficiency field goal percentage. So clearly, the biggest differences are in scoring and shooting efficiency4. And of course, all this comes during/after the media storm surrounding his comments that he’s worth a maximum contract down the road.
Don’t forget as well that Wall is only 22 years old, which, as The Basketball Jones’ J.E. Skeets tweeted last night, means he is actually two months younger than likely Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. …
But then, Sports Illustrated’s Pablo Torre countered: Don’t forget too that Kyrie Irving is 18 months younger than Wall. Wow. In case we needed any other proof that Irving’s ceiling — when healthy again, of course — is nearly indescribable. So don’t worry too much Scott, Wall’s track record of success isn’t at Kyrie’s level yet, despite an extra year in the league and extra 18 months in life. But he’s finally making waves and it’s exciting to watch.
Boot Down: Win streaks — Miami improved its run to 27 straight wins on Monday night, but Denver’s 15-in-a-row stretch came down in flames. Suddenly tied for the No. 3 spot out in the West with the LA Clippers behind Oklahoma City and San Antonio, the Nuggets put up an absolute stinker to end their incredible run: a 110-86 loss in New Orleans against the Hornets.
In the previous 15 games, the average final score for Denver was 109.1-98.9 (+10.2). The 86 points were the team’s third-fewest all season, although they did actually score only 87 in a March 15 victory. Despite that one win, they are now just 8-11 when scoring 100 points or less this season; obviously, that means 41-12 otherwise. Not a fantastic split when it’s been proven that playoff games operate at a much slower, more defensive-oriented pace.
Going back to the win streaks, I first want to say that these are way too overhyped in the media right now. Regular season, regular season5, I’ll be shocked if a team wins 15 or 27 straight including playoff games. Speaking of playoffs then, it’s pretty clear that Miami has a more substantial shot at making the NBA Finals — then potentially winning it. Hollinger’s odds have Miami at 28.5% chance to win it all, Denver at 3.8%. The West is quite crowded as usual this year. While I’m a big fan of the Nuggets and I do think they have some staying power despite lacking a prototypical superstar, they still have a significantly tougher road ahead.
As a final nod: One of the keys to the Hornets’ shocking win was former UD Flyer Brian Roberts. He scored 13 points and dished out a career-high 18 assists (previous high: 9) in the upset. An undrafted free agent, Roberts played in Israel for one year and then Germany for three before jumping back stateside this season. The now 27-year-old guard was a surprise to even make the team, then came through in a big way Monday in just his second career start. Kudos to B-Rob.
Photos: Lisa DeJong, The Plain Dealer and Alex Brandon, Associated Press
- Relatively simple math: The No. 28 team is No. 3, No. 27 team is No. 4, No. 26 team is No. 5, etc. [↩]
- As I’ve said before, Len is the most polarizing prospect in this draft. He’s got an excellent frame, showcases some exceptional skills for a center his age, yet just seems to not receive or demand the opportunities thus far at Maryland (To the tune of 6.9 field goal attempts per game in 58 collegiate games). At one point, he could have conceivably been thought of as a No. 1 pick. Now, I’d say that his draft range is anywhere from No. 3-12 depending upon the teams that fall in those ranges. [↩]
- Yes, that Memphis, the team that entered the day with the second-best defensive efficiency at 100.3. They also last allowed an opponent to score 35+ points on March 13, 2012 (Andrew Bynum, 37) and last allowed an opponent to score 41+ points on Jan. 2, 2010 (Kobe Bryant, 44). [↩]
- Per NBA.com/stats, Wall is shooting 42-69 (60.9%) from the paint, 31-64 (48.4%) from mid-range and 7-11 (63.6%) from threes during this stretch. Prior to this stretch, in 163 career games, those three percentages were 50.0%, 32.8% and 23.5%. You’d hope that such an amazing streak wouldn’t lead to bad habits long-term, but it’s such a joy to watch when its in progress. [↩]
- For more about how overall No. 1 seeds have fared recently in the playoffs, I’d recommend this ESPN Insider article from Kevin Pelton on the Heat’s repeat odds. [↩]