Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015 NBA Draft Thoughts - First Round.

Thoughts on every round 1 pick.  Some of this was written live, some way later since my kids are spastic morons.  Will do some round 2 commentary tomorrow.  Or some other time.  Some time soon probably.  Leave me alone.

1.1 - WOLVES - Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky.  Love it.  Brilliant pick.  Here is where I gave my initial thoughts on Towns vs. Okafor, and it became more and more obvious through workouts and Towns would be the pick.  I'm just damn glad Flip didn't screw it up.

1.2 LAKERS - D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State.  If Towns didn't exist I would have been all over Russell.  I really, really like this guy and it wouldn't surprise me if he ends up being the best player from this draft (with Towns a close second, of course).  I'm not sure how he'll work next to Kobe since they both are ball dominant types, but to be honest I'm not sure how anybody works next to Kobe at this point.  Dude's insane.  Free agency should be interesting.

1.3 PHILLY - Jahlil Okafor, Duke.  God it would have been so awesome if the Sixers took another project like Porzingis.  I don't know if Okafor and Embiid can play together, but I don't know what's up with Embiid anyway, and based on conventional wisdom he's the best player available.  I'm pretty sure if you had told Sixer fans they'd get Okafor back in mid-season they'd be thrilled.  They still probably should be and Nerlens Noel is a great pairing with him since he can help erase a lot of defensive problems.

1.4 KNICKS - Kristaps Porzingis, Foreign. I just love that this was the Knicks' pick since they're so trainwrecky already.  Not that this Porzingis guy is necessarily a train wreck.  Everyone raves about him as a different type of Euro player (which we've heard before) so maybe he'll be awesome, but he's also a project and a year or two away from a meaningful impact.  I'm sure Melo is thrilled.  Plus they could really use a PG.  No idea why they didn't go with Mudiay but whatevs.

1.5 ORLANDO - Mario Hezonja, Foreign.  One the one hand, they say this guy is the one player in this year's draft who could win both a slam dunk and a 3-point contenst.  On the other hand, they just compared him to J.R. Smith.  Hopefully for the Magic his head is screwed on a bit straighter.  I read somewhere he's a seriously cocky mofo, so who knows.  They say he can shoot the lights out, and when three of your key rebuilding pieces are Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, and Victor Oladipo well, you need some shooting.

1.6 KINGS - Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky.  Twitter and the internet hated this pick, and it was somewhat surprising considering WCS was reported to have some foot issues that had absolute no effect on him last year, but I like it.  The NBA big whigs are starting to figure out things like defense are pretty important and he's a monster on that end, and immediately.  Offense is a bit problematic, but with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay on that team I'm not sure how many shots are available anyway, and at least he can dunk well.

1.7 NUGGETS - Emmanuel Mudiay, China.  Was thought at one point to possibly be going as highly as top 3, a surprising slide and a good pick for the Nuggets who have apparently made basically everyone available and are going into full tear it down mode.  Mudiay, who I still have questions about simply because I've never seen him play, makes it easier to trade Ty Lawson, their most valuable trade chip.  I'm kind of surprised they didn't move him already.

1.8 PISTONS - Stanley Johnson, Arizona.  Behind Towns and Russell, Johnson is my third favorite player in this draft.  Watching him at Arizona he was so athletic and was able to dominate at times without even looking like he was trying.  The game just comes so easy to him, and he's got plenty of size and skill.

1.9 HORNETS - Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin.  Well, Jordan is Jordan.  Reports came out that he fell in love with Kaminsky in his workout, and despite already having Spencer Hawes on the roster (who is maybe Kaminsky's best case scenario) as well as Cody Zeller and a possible super talent like Justice Winslow dropping in their lap, they go with the Tank.  I don't know.  It's hard to see Kaminsky developing into a dominant force or anything.  I just hate lottery picks with limited upside.  Doesn't make sense to me.

1.10 HEAT - Justice Winslow, Duke.  A nice little steal for Miami here.  I don't know why he slid, especially since there was a little talk about him possibly being a top 3 guy at one point after he showed off in the NCAA Tournament, but the Heat pretty much had to take him.  If Hassan Whiteside is legit their lineup of Dragic/Wade/Winslow/Bosh/Whiteside is pretty good if everyone stays healthy.  Which they wouldn't with that group, but it'd be pretty solid if they did.

1.11 PACERS - Myles Turner, Texas.  I think Turner was like the #2 recruit coming into last season so he's got boatloads of potential.  He may not exactly have lived up to it last season but you have to remember his coach was Rick Barnes who probably would have taken Kentucky to the NIT title last year.  I wasn't expecting to hear his name this early for some reason, but I think I just read that David West opted out so it makes sense.  Might sprinkle a little rookie of the year futures money on him.  If he's ready the playing time will be there.

1.12 JAZZ - Trey Lyles, Kentucky.  I was a bit surprised by this one since the Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert front court seems really solid with the back court quite a bit shakier (I thought Booker should have been the pick).  Then again, the Jazz are working on becoming a defensively awesome team and Lyles should be able to block some shots.  They were pretty much in best player available mode since they were awesome the second half of last year and have their rebuilt lineup pretty much in place so I suppose they think he's the best player available.

1.13 SUNS - Devin Booker, Kentucky.  I like Booker here.  Probably the best shooter in the draft (besides Towns of course).  Despite having a bunch of guard types they don't have anyone you would classify first as a shooter so Booker gives them that added dimension.

1.14 THUNDER - Cameron Payne, Murray State.  I only saw one Murray State game this year so I can't really comment intelligently on Payne.  I am, however, surprised a bit they went point guard instead of big man considering who they have, but maybe they think Mitch McGary is going to be a player.  I myself do not.  All I know is they shipped out Jeremy Lamb for Luke Ridnour and then drafted another PG.  Weird pick.

1.15 WIZARDS - Kelly Oubre, Kansas.  Yeah not getting it.  The Wiz also gave up two 2nd round picks to move up here.  Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are both pretty young and seemingly have the wing positions on lock down now that Porter remembered how to play basketball.  I get that sometimes it makes sense to go best player available and stuff, but I don't know that Oubre is that.  My least favorite pick so far.

1.16 CELTICS - Terry Rozier, Louisville.  I like Rozier, but I'm always a bit leery of a prospect who rises up the draft boards based on workouts, going from the 2nd round to the mid-first.  It's just like the WR who put up mediocre production in college, kills the combine, and shoots into the first round.  Seems like those bust more than usual. Not to mention Rozier is a point guard who plays great defense, rebounds really well, and has an iffy jumper - the exact description of Marcus Smart.  Weird pick.

1.17 BUCKS - Rashad Vaughn, UNLV.  Much higher than I thought he'd go, but Vaughn always had kind of had more of an NBA game than a college game anyway, and he made it pretty clear his goal was 1-and-done so good for him.  Milwaukee seems like they're doing that thing where you collect as many interchangeable parts as you can, and Vaughn fits in.  Also like that with Dekker on the board the Bucks don't fall into the trap of going for the hometown kid (not a rip on the Tyus trade because that made tons of sense - Vaughn fits here so much better than Dekker).

1.18 ROCKETS - Sam Dekker, Wisconsin.  It never even occurred to me but this is a perfect fit.  They lost Chandler Parsons, and although Trevor Ariza was a capable replacement I think Dekker is an even better choice since, like Parsons, Dekker is far more white than Ariza.  Really, I always thought Dekker would be better in a more uptempo role, and this fits.  One of the better player-to-team matches in the draft so far.

1.19 KNICKS - Jerian Grant, Notre Dame.  Wow the Knicks actually did something smart.  I mentioned above they need a PG (sorry Jose Calderon) and they traded Tim Hardaway (now expendable with last year's emergence of Langston Galloway) for the most ready to contribute PG in the draft in Grant.  So they drafted one guy who is maybe two seasons away and one guy who is ready to play right now.  That's so Knicks.

1.20 RAPTORS - Delon Wright, Utah.  Well this is who I wanted the Wolves to get with that first pick in round 2.  I was talking with Snacks today and there was all that talk of the Wolves packaging their two #2s to move back into the first for Tyus Jones, and I said I'd rather have Grant, and he said might as well keep the picks and get Wright and use the second one on a euro stash guy or something.  That all made sense.  But now Wright and Grant are both gone and Tyus is a pretty big tier above any other point guard left, maybe the trade makes sense (spoiler:  they do it.  radio is going to be horrible tomorrow).

1.21 MAVERICKS - Justin Anderson, Virginia.  Everyone's favorite late first round sleeper, including Grandslam's which I knew because he's sent me at least 3 texts about him tonight.  With Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo peaced out they need some guard play because otherwise they're rolling J.J. Barea and Devin Harris out there.  Anderson could be just fine in the long run, but man these guys better be players for a guard in free agency.  Gross.

1.22 BULLS - Bobby Portis, Arkansas.  They have Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah so this is another pick that doesn't make a ton of sense from a fit sense, but Portis is a monster of an athlete.  Depending on how NBA-ready he is (debateable) he could give Chicago some real freedom to move Gibson, who everyone always seems to want, in a trade.  Plus his athleticism and defense are big strengths and could fit in well with Chicago's defensive oriented philosophy, which is what I would say if they still had Tom Tibedoux.  There's no way that's spelled correctly.

1.23 BLAZERS - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona.  Well he can defend his ass off.  With Nic Batum now gone (and I can't believe they're losing LaMarcus Aldridge, wow) Jefferson can pretty much slide right in and do a poor man's approximation on the wing.  He's a pretty horrendous shooter, however, so the change will be noticeable.  Man, poor Portland.  They're gonna be in rough shape next year.  Though I guess with Aldridge bouncing that gives them a bunch of money to chase Love or somebody like that.

1.24 WOLVES - Tyus Jones, Duke.  I like the trade if they really wanted a back-up for Ricky Rubio which it seems like they did from everything reported and makes a lot of sense since I think Zack LaVine's long term future is brighter as a shooting guard.  The only thing I hate about this is you're going to get a ton of vocal rubes loving it since he's from Minnesota and a ton of vocal rubes hating it since he left to go to Duke.  Seriously, the radio is going to be brutal tomorrow.  Especially PA.  He's so dumb.  If you like him promise me you'll stop reading this blog because I hate you.

1.25 GRIZZLIES - Jarell Martin, LSU.  Monster athlete and I like it.  Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are both still excellent players but they're both sorta ground bound, and Martin is the complete opposite.  Back-up bigs are Jon Leuer and Kosta Koufos, so Martin is them going in a totally different direction with their bigs.  Plus if I remember right he's a bit feisty which means he'll fit right in.  I think.  That's the current narrative on them, at least.

1.26 SPURS - Nikola Milutinov, Foreign.  Normally taking a Euro dork late is a pretty wasted move, but since this is the Spurs I irrationally find myself assuming it's a great pick.  Of course, I thought they got a steal last year with UCLA's Kyle Anderson and he played less than 400 minutes last year (he might have been hurt or something, I don't know but he didn't play much).  Also if you click on ESPN's scouting report for this guy it says he lacks a great motor and is a little soft.  That really doesn't sound like Pop's kinda guy.

1.27 LAKERS - Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming.  I said Martin is a monster athlete but Nance makes Martin look like you.  He played at Wyoming and struggled with a bunch of injuries so he never really got a lot of attention in college, but the name means something and seriously he's a great athlete - assuming he's all the way back from like 4 ACL tears or whatever.

1.28 CELTICS - R.J. Hunter, Georgia State.  I wonder if he would have been picked this high if he hadn't had the NCAA Tournament he had, but whatevs dude is pretty talented.  Celtics with another guard is a bit weird, but at least this one can shoot.  They now have Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Phil Pressey, Avery Bradley, James Young, R.J. Hunter, and Terry Rozier.  That's like, way too many guards.  Between their draft and the rumors earlier tonight that they were shopping Marcus Smart, I think they're shopping Marcus Smart.  Maybe the Wolves can trade Tyus for him?

1.29 NETS - Chris McCullough, Syracuse.  You're probably like who? and that makes sense.  He was a highly touted, highly regarded recruit before he destroyed his knee and he entered the draft anyway which normally I'd say dude what? but he got the guaranteed cash so good for him.  If you recall, the Nets have basically traded every pick they have for the foreseeable future, so at 29 you either go with a less touted prospect or shoot for the stars.  McCullough is a shoot for the stars pick and although it probably won't work out it makes total sense for a team with no way to build a future.

1.30 WARRIORS - Kevon Looney, UCLA.  Like this guy a lot an a great pick for the champs.  I read they have an option on Marreese Speights and now they can cut him loose and save some cash, and David Lee is even easier to move, though I don't know what they have to send along with him and his $15 million contract.  Course I seem to almost always love a lot of the end of the 1st round picks for good teams, and how many of them actually work out?  Like 3?  Ever?

There's your first round.  Really like the Wolves draft (and NOT because Tyus is from Minnesota, I would have preferred Grant but I like getting a PG).  Here's your depth chart right now:

PG:  Rubio/Jones
SG:  Martin/LaVine
SF:  Wiggins/Muhammad
PF:  Towns/Garnett
C:  Pekovic/Dieng

Seems fun.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hey Some Sports Stuff Happened

Some of you who still actually read this blog have noticed I haven't posted in a while.  Mostly because I was driving across the country to Utah with my wife and two idiot kids.  We covered more than 2,500 miles and traveled in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah over the last 15 days, spending nights in 3 different hotel rooms and 2 different condos.  We saw Mount Rushmore, the black hills (freaking gorgeous), a bunch of cool Mountains and stuff, swam in 3 different pools, saw some dinosaurs, a moose, a bunch of antelope, and more cows and horses than you could ever want.  We drove through a true ghost town (like, a bunch of buildings and nobody living there), Deadwood (Billy the Kid died there), went through the world's biggest drug store (Wall Drug in Wall, SD) and a town with a sign advertising population 15.  I drank vodka tonics out of a sports bottle at the pool, boxed wine out of a paper cup in a pitch black hotel room while the kids slept, and snuck beer in the garage at a mormon birthday party. 

Best of all, my kids got to spend time with their grandparents and spent 9 full days with their cousins who are about the same age and whose mom is their mom's sister and best friend and they loved every minute of it.  There were many tears when we left, and my daughter vowed to be pen pals with her cousin while my son wailed "but we can't leave cousin Ike is my best friend!!!!"  I dreaded doing this before we started (even though I knew it was something we should do). Yes, there were moments where it got difficult (like when the bridge in Wyoming was washed out and we had to back track 50 miles, or when the road in Wyoming was washed out and we had to go out of our way by about 130 miles), but the kids held on and were troopers despite a couple 12 hour days in the car and it was a fantastic trip all around.  We will definitely do it again in a few years.  And I'm going to dread every moment leading up to it.

Any way, there was some sports stuff that happened.  Also Wyoming can go right to hell.

-  The big news is that Gopher commit Jarvis Johnson will not be medically cleared to play for the Gophers due to his heart condition.  This on the heels of another commit, Jonathan Nwankwo, not getting clearance to play due to some indeterminate academic issue.  So what the hell is going on here?  This isn't the first time the basketball team has run into issues with the admissions office - recall Djuan Piper or Gaston Diedhiou, just in the last year.  Honestly I'm pretty tired of it.

I get that the University of Minnesota is among the top academic schools in the country - US News ranked it #71 in its Top Academic Universities in the nation list - and that's cool.  I mean, I like seeing the U up there on that list, much better than being someone like UNLV who received a "Rank not Published" because they were so bad.  The problem is, if you want to be an athletically relevant school sometimes you have to bend the rules a bit.  Duke ranks #5, but William Avery, who seemed like a complete dope, got in there because he could ball.  USC ranks #22 and I'm pretty sure O.J. Mayo is a moron.  Georgetown ranks #20 and they let in Kenny Brunner, who ended up trying to kill somebody with a god damn samurai sword.

Look, I'm not an idiot.  If there's a danger to Jarvis, and unacceptable danger, then sure, hold him out, of course.  The kid's safety is paramount here so I'm not necessarily bashing this decision, just the overall state of the admissions department which seems to constantly be at odds with the basketball program.  I know you can't let in some degenerate who can't read, but Nwankwo landed at VCU, which may not have the lofty academic status of the U but it still ranked in the top 200.  Come on already.  The Gopher athletic program will never rise to top tier status if the rest of the University actively works to hold it down.  Admitting some borderline or slightly worse than borderline students who can ball the fuck out isn't going to put a black eye on the school.  This program is cursed, and the tight ass admissions people sure as hell aren't helping.

And, if you'll allow me to be human for a moment, this has to just suck for Jarvis.  The kid just had his dream pulled out from underneath him. Despite the report that he and his family were kind of blindsided by this it doesn't appear at this time that he's looking to transfer.  That makes me think there's some legit shit going on here and not some kind of conspiracy - nobody wants another Hank Gathers situation.  This is really the wrong issue to start railing on the U's admissions department because this one might make sense, it's just the latest in a series of setbacks so it's a little bit of burnout here.  Ugh.  Just sick of it.

-  The Twins started their regression with a 2-9 stretch, but have bounced back with a 3-1 stretch and still sit at 37-31 and second place in the AL Central.  I pretty much expect this kind of thing.  Most likely they'll play around .500 ball the rest of the year and end up staying in contention for a Wild Card berth and things will stay interesting.  I'm pretty excited about that, though it's a negative also.  If the Twins hang around in contention it means guys who should probably be trading this year, especially Trevor Plouffe since his value is probably at an all-time high right now, won't be.  

Hey I like Plouffe, I'm a big fan and my kid has some big giant face thing of his.  But his numbers are better than how he's actually playing and it's unlikely a 29 year old suddenly hit his peak, he's a free agent after this year, and the best prospect in the system other than Buxton is a 3B.  He's prime trade material.  Not to mention Mike Pelfrey, who they better not resign/extend because he is terrible no matter what his fluky ERA is.  

Of course, it's intoxicating to think about the playoffs, too.  If they can just get in, anything can happen.  Who knows how this shakes out, the Twins could end up buyers or sellers, but most likely they'll stand pat and that's probably the right move.  Of course, when you're about to get a pitcher like Ervin Santana back that's as good as making a trade anyway.

Some other Twin things:

-  Byron Buxton is here!  He picked up his third career hit today, but that 2-20 start wasn't exactly encouraging especially since other prospects on his level have produced so far this year (Kris Bryant, Joey Gallo, Carlos Correa).  With all the traveling and stuff I've only seen one of his at-bats and he looked fine (despite striking out) so it's hard to know if he's overmatched right now or if it's just bad luck so far, but we can look into some nerd stats to get an idea.  

First thing that stands out is a BABIP of .143.  Essentially no matter how much a batter may be struggling that is completely non-sustainable (the lowest BABIP for anyone in 2014 was .231 by Brian McCann).  His strikeout rate is a kind of scary 33%, but it's not all that surprising considering he's been around 25% his first year at each level.  His 7.7% line drive rate and 21.4% hard hit rate both suggest he's making terrible contact when he does hit the ball, however, and that's not good.  His swing rate is a little high and his contact rate a little low, but nothing too concerning.  

There's plenty to like here still.  His speed and defense give him value even when his bat might not, and I have to believe his bat will come around simply because he's always hit and also because I have to believe it.  Give him time.  Nothing to panic about.  Right?

-  I'm pretty bummed about Danny Santana.  I know the .405 BABIP pegged him as pretty much an automatic regression candidate, but he had a really good line drive rate so I thought you know, maybe.  But the line drive rate has gone down, the K rate has gone up, and the walk rate has completely disappeared leading to an embarrassing .525 OPS, second worst in the majors among hitters with at least 185 PAs.  Couple that with Eduardo Escobar's hot start and sending him down was pretty much a no brainer.  Escobar's cooled off now, however, and Santana is crushing at Rochester (.370/.412/.543) so he'll be back up, and hopefully he'll be all straightened out.

-  I don't know if anyone has noticed, and by that I mean I think everyone has noticed, but Joe Mauer has been worth -0.5 WAR this season, meaning he's worse than replacement level.  Meaning you take some shlub like Chris Colabello or Chris Parmelee or whoever the equivalent would be right now in AAA and plug him in and he'd give you more than Mauer.  Mauer, who is currently getting paid $23 million to completely suck at an offensively premium position.  His slugging and OPS are both the worst in the American League among first basemen with enough at bats to qualify for the batting title, which means he's playing one of the most traditional power positions without supplying any power (or anything offensively, really).  

His walk rate has slipped to a career worst as well, so you can't even point to his OBP (a pedestrian .329, 70 points or so lower than his career number) and say "well, at least he's getting on base."  His "soft contact" percentage is the worst it's ever been, and he's already popped up in the infield twice this year.  You can say that doesn't sound like much, and in some cases it isn't, but from 2011-2014 he only popped up a total of two times - not a misprint.  

I don't know where to go from here.  He's making $23 million per year through 2018 so he's impossible to trade unless you include something extremely premium or pick up a lot of his salary, which is pointless.  The only way he's remotely tradeable is if he ups his production level, which seems unlikely since his 2009 season, the one which got him that big contract, was a complete outlier.  His 28 homers that year were more than double his next best year.  His batting average was nearly 40 points better than his second best year.  His ISO was 60 points higher, his WAR over 2 wins better than any other year in his career, and his HR/FB was almost double any other season.  Just a complete fluke.

At this point, as frequent commenter and long time reader RGHrbek mentioned in the comments, he's blocking Kennys Vargas, who needs at-bats.  He could end up blocking Plouffe or Miguel Sano's move to first, and by taking up one of the 1B/DH spots he's also blocking Josmil Pinto's development.  Seriously, if you could only have two of the three out of Vargas, Mauer, and Plouffe, don't you take Vargas and Plouffe?  Mauer needs to be traded just to free up playing time for the younger dudes, but he's completely untradeable so here we are.  Hopefully he can turn it around and give the team a little average and on base skills if nothing else.  Oh and he's completely horrid defensively too, don't forget.  Neat stuff.

-  If you have kids go see Inside Out.  It was pretty awesome.

Yeah that'll do for now.