Don't Stay In School: A Personal Plea to Joel Embiid (And Others)

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"Did you graduate from Auburn?"
"No, but I have a couple people working for me who did." 

- Charles Barkley

Dear Joel Embiid,

How are you? I hope your back is feeling better. Back injuries are no joke, and I imagine a spinal stress fracture is pretty painful. You seem like a tough dude though, and I'm confident you'll rebound from this. (Pun intended.) I'm sorry I didn't get to watch you play in March Madness. I'll be honest, I don't really watch college basketball much. I've been keeping up with your highlights though, and with your teammate Andrew's, and with Jabari Parker's at Duke, and with all the big NBA prospects. It's really cool to watch you guys play, and exciting to imagine a future where you're all playing in All-Star games, breaking records, making faces at Joey Crawford, and dominating at the big stage of NBA basketball. That's what I'm into, you know? I love NBA basketball. So yeah, I'm not really into the college game, but it's not like I can ignore dudes like you. Especially with how March Madness is, I can't help but tune in, or pull up YouTube, and watch what kind of crazy stuff you're doing and get hyped about the NBA player you might become.

That's why I was really bummed out when I read a while back that you were thinking about staying another year in college. Look bro, I get it. This is all really new to you, you're overwhelmed and excited and you're in the thick of it with your teammates and your coach and the Kansas fans, and you've gotta say the right thing. Obviously you can't just come right out and say you're heading to the league in a few months, even if you are. And I'm sure there was some honesty in there too, I figure you probably meant it a little when you talked about how you weren't sure you were ready for the NBA (You totally are, though). But don't indulge those temptations dude. More than ever, you're going to hear both people on the television and people close to you talking about all sorts of high-minded ideals. They're going to be talking about "maturity" and "learning to play the right way." You're going to read about this new NBA commissioner Adam Silver, and how he wants to institute a two-year rule for prospective NBA players. You're going to see a lot of people, smart respectable basketball people, agreeing with him. You're even going to hear guys like Charles Barkley (my hero) supporting the idea. They're going to talk about how it's important to get an education. They're going to bring up all sorts of examples of great college players, two to four year guys, who went on to have great NBA careers. They'll probably bring up Tim Duncan. They'll talk about Damian Lillard. You're going to be hearing all these smart voices, thinking about your school, those Kansas fans, and maybe a little nagging voice of uncertainty in the back of your head, and you're going to really think about it. You'll think about staying.

Missouri v Kansas

It's important you ignore all of that, and get the hell out of college. Get to the NBA, as fast as you can, as soon as you can. It's a real bummer that Kansas bowed out so early. It sucks. There are probably a ton of feelings that keep you tied down to Kansas and the dreams of a NCAA title. But you can't let it cloud your vision. And really, that's all you have to be worried about, because that's all you're going to lose by going to the NBA. Don't listen to this crap about how you need "an education," because you and I both know your main priority is winning ball games for your team, your fans, and your school. You're an NBA player in everything but title, and the only difference between you and them is that you aren't getting paid yet.

Don't worry about college. You can go to college later! I can't stress enough how easy it will be for you to go to college later. Whether you'll still feel like it will be up to you, but you're going to have a long career and a good half-century to get an education after your NBA career is over. You'll have the time, the motivation, and the money to pay for it. You'll have years of experience as a professional working adult that'll provide the direction you need to steer that education wisely. If you get to that point and find that you don't feel that you need it, great. You probably won't need it. Some of the most successful people in this country, athletes or otherwise, never attended college. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have built pretty successful brands for themselves outside their athletic achievements, and neither has had the benefit of a single semester of higher education. Smart guys are smart guys.

Speaking of those guys, if you ever find yourself looking at a chart showing the correlation between length of time in college and longevity of NBA careers, which is something I've seen floated around lately, here's a real solid rebuttal: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire, Josh Smith, Jermaine O'Neal, Tracy McGrady, Al Jefferson, and Kevin Garnett. That's a good solid list of All-Star NBA players who enjoyed or are enjoying long NBA careers, straight out of high school. Lot of big guys on that list too. And having watched your potential at Kansas, I don't think it's a reach to say you'll probably belong in that same stratosphere with those guys.

Kendrick+Perkins+Oklahoma+City+Thunder+v+Boston+zOmxtuexOqGl

But hey, somebody'll be in your ear. Maybe it'll even be that same little voice that sounds a lot like you. That voice might say "But most of those guys are Hall-of-Famers. What if I'm not as good as them?" You never know, right? Well, there's also: Shaun Livingston, Dorrell Wright, Martell Webster, JR Smith, Gerald Green, Monta Ellis, Andray Blatche, Amir Johnson, and Kendrick Perkins. Don't get me wrong, I love Kendrick Perkins. But I'm pretty sure you're better than Kendrick Perkins. I'm pretty sure you could step on an NBA floor right now and be a more valuable contributor than big Perk, and he's had a long successful career. He's won a title, and he's made a lot of money. In terms of an NBA career, that's the most anybody can expect from themselves. Not everyone can be Michael Jordan. To make it, to carve out a role for yourself however big, to be valuable, and to win. That's success, no matter what anyone says about you. That's what you want for yourself.

But does it seem like that's what these people want for you? Doesn't it seem strange that all these talented high school players, many of whom have had all-time careers, many of whom are respected as some of the smartest in the league, never went to college? That they never learned to "play the right way?" That they developed in the league, playing against the best basketball talent in the world, and were all the better for it? Isn't it strange that you're a legal adult with a set of marketable job skills which, as evidenced by your draft stock, are valued in the millions of dollars a year, and yet not only are you required to work unpaid for a year of your adult life, but there are prominent media figures who guilt you and your peers for thinking something might be ethically wrong with that system?  That the average NBA career is less than ten years, yet you're expected to sacrifice your body, your health, and a year of pay to work at what amounts to an unpaid internship? Does it seem like people are thinking of your professional well-being and security when they're talking about whether you "learn the game" or not, or whether you're "mature?"

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Isn't it depressing that Perry Jones III, a versatile 6'10 big man who can play three positions, was a projected lottery pick had he entered the draft after his freshman campaign at Baylor?  He stayed another year though, and when he didn't show the progression scouts expected (as many college players playing within a system don't), he saw his draft stock fall. Then doctors red-flagged his knees, a mark against his health that sent him tumbling all the way down to the 28th pick, where my Oklahoma City Thunder snatched him up. He's been pretty good, but he doesn't get a lot of minutes. He would've gotten more time had he gone to a team that would've featured him. His knees appear to be fine. He's making about $1 million dollars this year. He could be making $5 million. Who knows, he might've proved himself and lined himself up for a big contract. At this rate, it's doubtful he'll get the chance.

What if your spinal injury affects your play? I'm praying that it doesn't, but what if it does? It's not uncommon for talented NBA prospects to appear to stagnate in their second year because of the nature of college basketball and more stringent offensive systems. What if your health isn't the same on top of it? Your circumstances won't matter to NBA scouts, they'll drop you on their board in a second. But right now it's unlikely you go any lower than #3 in this summer's NBA draft, regardless of your back. You're that good. And that rookie contract is guaranteed, not like some other sports leagues. If things go the worst they possibly can for you, you'll be covered on hospital bills and whatever you need. You'll be taken care of.

It bothers me that you have so little choice in the matter. It bothers me that Adam Silver and a bevvy of owners are so transparently unconcerned with the professional freedom of the players that form the foundation of the sport. It bothers me that game breaks are inundated with "NBA Cares" advertisements where players extoll the virtues of giving back, yet the league has sought to structure itself in such a way that increasingly penalizes players for the faults of management and ownership. It bothers me that the NBA offers only the most half-assed of educational programs to help teach young players about financial management. It bothers me that the players union has been actively complicit in working against its own membership. It bothers me that the media, whose responsibility it is to hold truth to power and protect the interests of players, seems to be overflowing with prominent voices enthusiastic about propping up an ethically broken and exploitative business model.

But hey, you know what? A lot of things bother me. The truth is, that's the system man. It is what it is. I'm not saying you or me can do anything to change it. All you can do is know how to get the most out of it for yourself. And look, I believe that everyone is entitled the freedom to do what they think is right for themselves. I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life. You know your body, and your skills. If you think staying at Kansas an extra year is what's best for you, then more power to you. That's your right. If you want to give up basketball and join the Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, whatever, that's your right too. You're the master of your fate, there's no rules to this thing. But if you want to make a career out of playing basketball, you should look at what decision gives you the best odds to succeed while securing a future for yourself and yours. That's getting yourself an NBA contract, as big of one as possible, as soon as possible. If you're ready, you're ready. If you're not, you'll have more than enough time getting ready. Getting ready will be your job. Because we both know that's what you're already doing for them. A job. They're just trying to stiff you on pay as long as they can get away with it.

Tournament, no tournament. Ready, not ready. Healthy, not healthy. Just don't give them an excuse not to pay you, Joel. You've already earned that money, you've just gotta collect. Anyway, I hope you get to feeling better. I'm rooting for you.

Love,

Jacob H.

Who IS DeMarcus Cousins, Really?

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Full disclosure: I’m predisposed to liking DeMarcus Cousins. As a native of Mobile, Alabama, where the basketball ain't football and the hoops are hard to come by, I’ve got a soft spot for the Sacramento big man. He represents the most prominent active representative of my state in the world of professional basketball (sorry, Eric Bledsoe). That means something. I attended high school down the street from the guy, at the same time he did. I’d love to tell some illuminating story about our relationship before we made it big, but I never once met him. I never even saw him play. To be honest, I never heard of him until he played for Kentucky. Like I said, Alabama -- and particularly the high school I grew up at -- is the land of college, high-school, and professional football. In that order. The next Michael Jordan could’ve played for my own high school team and I probably wouldn’t have known it. But hindsight is 20/20, and knowing what I know about Cousins now, my affinity remains as strong.

Of course, it’s not just that Cousins is from my hometown that piques my interest. You could say I like the idea of Boogie Cousins. I’m the biggest Charles Barkley fan on planet Earth (self-appointed), and though I believe Chuck resents the comparisons (and let’s face it, Cousins is no Charles Barkley in game or in wit), there’s something intriguing and familiar about a volatile big man ascending from my neck of the woods and into the heights of basketball. His game an amalgam of oddly-fitting talents with a penchant for snarling at referees and snatching down offensive rebounds. I think that I see in Cousins some of the same qualities that led me to idolize Barkley the basketball player as a child. Maybe that’s why I so often find myself defending Cousins, and hear phrases coming out of my mouth like “That Sacramento franchise has been toxic, it would stunt anyone’s development,” or “He’s still really young, give him time.” Maybe it’s why I nod my head enthusiastically when I hear anyone from Shaquille O’Neal to an anonymous forum poster say that Cousins could be the best big man in basketball.

I see his athleticism, his diverse offensive skill-set, and his skill on the boards. I see what anyone else who’s watched the Kings fumble their way through an allegedly professional basketball game has seen: potential. And as often happens with hoops fans and analysts alike, I conflate potential with certainty. But those aren’t the same thing. The world is filled with walking monuments to unfulfilled potential. The NBA especially. Could DeMarcus Cousins ever really be the best big man in the NBA, or is it the pipe dream to end all pipe dreams? Anything’s possible, of course, given that a 37-year-old Tim Duncan just made a strong argument for the post. But is a beautiful Cousins redemption even remotely likely, at any point in his career? I’m not so sure.

• • •

Cousins isn’t just the NBA’s most prominent bipedal manifestation of unrealized potential. He’s also the quintessential rookie, even as we prepare for his fourth year in the league. He stands a generous 6’11, 270 lbs, with a near 7’6 wingspan. Looking at him in uniform and seeing him use his immense strength to bully his way to a post position, then catching the ball and powering it down over and through opposing centers, it’s easy to see the promise. If you happened to catch the rare game where Cousins consistently commits to this style of play, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was already one of the most unstoppable offensive centers in the league. But like many young players, he either doesn’t recognize his skillset or lacks the discipline to properly apply it.

The big man's shot selection isn't just bad -- it's abysmal. Last season a whole 53% of his attempted shots were jumpers, which he converted only 31% of (credit to 82games.com). That 31% is bad for any player, but it’s especially bad for a big man who presumably should only be taking those shots off either wide-open spot-up opportunities or to keep outmatched post defenses trying to pack the paint honest. Cousins converted 64% of his inside shots over the season, yet only 47% of his attempted shots were in the paint. I was going to say that those attempt rates should be reversed, but Cousins would be remiss for taking even that many jump shots. The man has excellent touch around the basket, but he simply isn’t a great jump shooter. His poor shot selection (plus the general chaos of Sacramento's so-called offense) only exacerbates his problem.

Cousins is still young. His shot selection could well improve with the addition of a competent coaching staff and a roster more coherently assembled around him. Even without that, his passing and offensive rebounding is exceptional. Perhaps more than Shaquille O'Neal pipe-dreams of looping drop-steps and thunderous dunks, these elements comprise Cousins’ most tantalizing dimension on the offensive end. Unfortunately, his defense is straight-up appalling. Check out Zach Lowe’s excellent piece on the subject. He shows all the lack of discipline typical to a young player on the offensive end, paired with a foul rate that borders on tragicomedy. Only three players in the NBA fouled more than Cousins did last season. One was Dwight Howard (both a superior offensive and defensive threat), one was Roy Hibbert (an elite defender in the paint), and the other was Amir Johnson (who plays for the Toronto Raptors). For a team that doesn’t have much more going for it, Cousins has somehow been a statistical net negative on both ends of the floor for the Sacramento Kings, with the team a -1.7 points scored on offense and a +2.0 points allowed on defense (see 82games.com for this grim tableau). That’s pretty bad.

In spite of all this negativity, it's not rare to see Cousins featured in comparisons to Dwight Howard who (while insufferable) has been the popular choice for best center in the NBA for quite some time now. When the Kings defeated the doomed 2012-2013 Lakers in the preseason, in those halcyon days before that dread ship had even begun its cursed voyage, Kings fans and Laker-haters alike cheered Cousins name from the rooftops (despite him not having a particularly great game). If I wasn’t among them, my heart certainly was. The season that followed that game saw Howard’s team underperform spectacularly, his individual statistics dip, and his popularity stock hit rock bottom. Meanwhile, Cousins drew about as much attention as he always does, which is to say... well, not much aside from when his ejection makes a slow day on SportsCenter. [Editor's Note: And Sean Elliot noticed him, which counts for... OK, no, that doesn't count for anything.]

Let’s pretend for a moment that the Dwightmare never happened, that Dwight’s 2012-2013 campaign wasn’t marred with any extra-curricular stigma. Let’s pretend that Dwight’s status as the best center in basketball wasn’t really in contention, and do a comparison: Cousins, the so-called-best-big-man-in-basketball-to-be, versus Howard, the best-big-man-in-basketball-that-was-and-might-be-again [Editor's Note: Why-are-we-talking-like-this-can-I-join-this-gravy-train?].

• • •

COUSINS vs HOWARD

A lot is made about Dwight Howard's lack of offensive game, and it's almost always the central point of conversation when comparing him with Cousins. But what's overlooked is that in spite of Howard's lack of finesse on the block and recent reluctance to play the pick and roll, he's a more than solid offensive option on the block with his back to the basket. More than 70% of Dwight's offensive possessions took place inside, and he scored on them at an exceptional clip, with an eFG% of .603. Compare this to Cousins, who as mentioned earlier only took less than half of his shots inside (47%) and converted at a 64% rate. That's pretty comparable, and you'd probably give the edge to Cousins. The way I figure it, there's two ways of looking at that. On the one hand, Dwight's efficiency is probably somewhat inflated by hack-a-Dwight, a strategy that couldn't be effectively employed on Cousins in the same scenario. So there you have it, Cousins is the better inside man.

But then there's the other way of looking at it. A lot of people present Cousins as the center of the future, and point to his footwork and finesse in explaining the bountiful reach of his potential. But for all that finesse, it hasn't actually manifested in any measurable offensive advantage for Boogie. For one, Cousins seems utterly incapable of dealing with double-teams, often turning the ball over or forcing the issue too late. For a big man whose passing is their most clearly evident skill on paper, that's not a good sign. For two, he just doesn't like to play down low consistently. Though he scores much more efficiently than Dwight inside, he scores less (8.4/ppg vs. Dwight's 9.1 ppg down there) because he doesn't even take half of his shots there. Dwight hasn't looked like he possessed a clear offensive move with his back to the basket for a couple of years now, yet he's still a much more reliable option on the block than Cousins for sheer virtue of that he believes he is. He goes there.

But maybe it's not all about the block. One of Cousins' claims to fame is his versatility on offense, and to see him play on the nights he's on is a surreal thing of beauty. Unfortunately, he's usually not on. His complete lack of conscience in regards to his shot selection belies his potential -- while Cousins may be less polished than Howard, he's at least a lot more versatile. And that may be the case, but it's difficult to analyze how much of Cousins' inefficiency is skill limitations, how much is the weakness of his team or organization, and how much is talent that is simply undeveloped. But if you're half of your shots are outside jumpers and you're only hitting 31% of them, it might be that you're just not a very good jump shooter. Dwight Howard isn't, and he didn't take very many jumpers last year either. He converted 52% of the ones he did take. We can lambast D12 for refusing to play to his strengths all we want (and rightfully so), but his shot selection last season was the mark of a developed player that understands their limitations and their offensive abilities, and is capable of executing on those abilities in spite of a down year. DeMarcus Cousins doesn't show any of that.

I alluded to Cousins' passing, and it really does deserve special attention, because it's (spoiler alert) the only area in which he seems to hold a clear measurable advantage over D12. But outside of that, there isn't much of a comparison. Dwight is both a more prodigious and a more efficient scorer, and in spite of his reluctance to RUN THE PICK AND ROLL WITH STEVE NASH he demonstrated an understanding of his strengths and weaknesses on offense that might as well be worlds away from anything we've seen from Cousins. On defense, I don't think anyone needs to go into it. If you're reading this, you know Dwight's pedigree, and if you're even remotely interested in Boogie Cousins you know that for him defense is a thing that you close to keep the dog in. The gap between Cousins and Dwight's crown, tarnished as it is, is as vast and seemingly insurmountable as that chasm at the end of Last Crusade.

• • •

al jefferson

COUSINS vs JEFFERSON

Of course, plenty of people are fine for Cousins not to become Dwight, and aren't interested in even entertaining the comparison. Instead, they have more realistic expectations. The one I've seen recently is between Cousins and the lovable Big Al Jefferson of the soon-to-be Charlotte Hornets. Bobnets. Hornetcats.

Wow, Hornetcats sounds like a sweet name.

Anyway, this is the comparison for the learned fan. The fan who doesn't expect Cousins to ever learn defense. This fan keeps their expectations grounded, and is unshook by a world that is both uncertain and scary. This is your moment, this fan.

What's the book on Al Jefferson? Good offensive player, weird-looking hook shot, doesn't play defense, offensive black hole, nice guy, good sense of humor, just good enough to ruin the Bobcats chances at a legitimately good 2014 lottery pick? Sounds about right, yeah? So here's the thing. Al Jefferson is a one-dimensional offensive player, yes. Right now, he's a slightly more productive option than Cousins (17.8/50% vs. 17.1/47%) , but that's likely to change, especially if we're to presume Jefferson is who he is and Cousins is going to improve.

Honestly though, outside of the comparable scoring, I don't think this is a very fair comparison to Cousins. As stated, he's already right there in regards to scoring and efficiency, and he does it in a number of ways (even though he probably shouldn't) whereas Big Al is largely a one trick pony. On defense, there's simply no comparison. For all the hand-wringing over Cousins' disinterest in playing defense, it pales in comparison to what Jefferson accomplishes (or fails to accomplish) on that end of the floor. Opposing teams score 9.3 more points when Big Al's on the floor, whereas that figure with Cousins is only a +2. Part of that was Jefferson's excellent defensive backups in Favors and Kanter, but it wasn't ALL backups. Cousins blocks more shots than Al Jefferson does and fouls less. While Cousins has shown little interest in playing disciplined team defense to this point in his career, Jefferson has shown literally no capacity for playing defense whatsoever. I don't even feel like that's too mean of an assessment, Big Al would agree with me on this.

Comparing Cousins to Jefferson has a certain pleasing symmetry to it, but it isn't fair to either player. Though his growth is uncertain, there's no reason to think Cousins can't marginally improve on his defensive shortcomings. And even as bad as they are, they're already vastly superior to Jefferson's. His passing is beyond what Big Al has displayed, though whether it's that dramatic of a difference is open for debate. Cousins averages 1 more assist per game (though it's accompanied by more turnovers, yet another question mark in his future development) 82games.com gives Cousins a passing rating of 2.7, calculated from assist/turnover ratio. Jefferson has a 2.8.

Al Jefferson is a player who has maximized the use of the tools in his toolbox, and succeeded in spite of his limitations. He's also (probably) the player he's going to be for the rest of his career. Comparing what he's accomplished to the mountain of unmolded clay and unfulfilled potential that is DeMarcus Cousins is just as unfair to him as it is to Cousins.

• • •

If you really think on it, there aren't any current players that represent particularly compelling comparisons for Cousins. He's a big angry golem of talent and potential with possibilities that stretch on forever yet uncertainties that dominate the conversation. There's no other player in the NBA of his age or experience that is in a particularly similar situation to him that permits a fair comparison. Perhaps if we were to look way back into the annals of NBA history, we might unravel the mystery.

Perhaps there was a player in their third year in the league, for whom scoring in a variety of ways and without prejudice seemed easy. For whom defense was an afterthought. Who played for a troubled franchise in a time of turmoil. A player whose skill and potential was outweighed only by their outsized confidence in their own abilities and public assurances of their own dominance. A player with a similar PER and WS/48. A player who seemed destined to either be adopted as the face of their shaky franchise or shipped out, where they would likely find themselves occupying the roster of any team willing to take a chance on them.

COUSINS vs ELLIS

Oh my god.

"What is it, bro?"

Grim Fortuna: The 2013 Draft's First Ten

Alternate photo of Otto Porter.

Every year, the NBA Draft offers promise and despair for fans and front offices around the association. Fans watch with rapt attention and bated breath [Ed. Note: Just playin', they read Twitter] as David Stern ambles to and from the podium, smirking as he holds their teams’ fates in his frog prince hands. They oscillate from cheers to cries as he unveils their pick, knowing that with it their organization’s final call has been laid bare for the world to see. For NBA fans, every year’s draft (however deep or diluted) holds simultaneously the implied promise of a brighter future and the grim reassurance of their doomed fates. How appropriate that the 2013 draft, an occasion we collectively wrote off as likely being one of the more uninteresting in recent memory, ended up being the most exciting. Boos and jeers rained down, Stern smirked, the names slowly filled the board, and we're left to sort through the debris. We stand amidst it, left to wonder “Wait, how did my team actually do?” With respect to that question, at least for the first 10 teams in the draft, your friends at Gothic Ginobili are here to assess your grim fortune:

• • •

1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Anthony Bennett – Power Forward
After recovering from the initial shock of the pick, I’m actually not totally against this pick. This’ll be the second year in a row the Cavaliers took an unconventional choice with their top-5 lottery pick, and if I was a Cavs fan I’d be much more comfortable with this pick than last year’s. Bennett is a versatile forward with excellentsize and length. Offensively, he reminds me of Charles Barkley minus the back-to-basket game. Of course, the question on everyone’s mind concerns what position he’s supposed to play. I don’t think this is a tweener concern in the traditional sense -- with proper conditioning I think Bennett could handle limited time at small forward, and with a fast-paced small ball lineup is perfectly suited for the 4 spot given his skill in transition and offensive versatility. The problem is that Tristan Thompson exists, is on the Cavaliers, is a power forward, and is on a rookie contract. Thompson can’t play small forward, and I’d have serious doubts about replacing Alonzo Gee with Bennett for any length of time, so I’m interested to see what Cleveland is going to do here. Given the already shaky injury status of the Cavaliers frontcourt, I understand why they passed on Noel. Why pass on Oladipo though? His addition presents no more of a logjam at shooting guard than Bennett’s does at power forward, and his ability to defend multiple positions solves an issue more immediately pressing to the Cavaliers than Bennett’s scoring does. Another interesting choice from an organization with a history of interesting draft choices.

AARON MCGUIRE'S HOT SPORTS TAKE

Bennett's name features a "triple double" composed of the letters "e", "n", and "t." Bennett will average a triple double.

2. Orlando Magic – Victor Oladipo – Shooting Guard
In my opinion, this was the best fit of the draft. It speaks highly of Oladipo that this likely would have been the case no matter which team took him. Were the rumored Bledsoe deal to take place, Orlando would be looking at a formidable athletic core and a dangerous 1-2 punch in transition. However, I don’t buy that Oladipo puts Orlando back in the conversation as a fringe playoff team. For his relative completeness as a player I see his value for the Magic lying more on the defensive end. That said, Moe Harkless looked awfully effective for much of last season. There’s reason to be optimistic for Orlando fans.

AARON MCGUIRE'S HOT SPORTS TAKE

If you add an "n" and a "r" to Oladipo's name, you have "Orlandipo." This means he will be Orlando's very best Scrabble player.

3. Washington Wizards – Otto Porter – Small Forward

Next to Oladipo, this is my pick for most likely to quickly improve their team. Washington’s small forward rotation is a disaster, and Porter’s length and ability to move without the basketball should, with time, make him a valuable upgrade over Martell Webster. His length and quickness makes him look like he’ll develop into quite an NBA-level defender, and the Wizards were already looking like an elite defensive squad in the latter half of the 2012-2013 season. Porter should only improve that. If Beal continues to improve, and Wall can stay healthy, Otto Porter and the Wizards look like good bets to be fighting for a playoff spot come next spring.

AARON MCGUIRE'S HOT SPORTS TAKE

Otto Porter represents the second Airplane! star to "make it" in the NBA. He was the pilot.

4. Charlotte Bobcats – Cody Zeller – Center
The above represents one reaction to the Bobcats pick. Cody isn’t the stereotypical stiff the name Zeller often brings to mind, as evidenced by his draft combine stats and college performance. He’s a stellar athlete, especially in transition, who’s capable of converting those transition opportunities into points. I’d project Zeller fitting reasonably well into Charlotte's framework of a fast up-tempo super-small-ball team helmed by Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions. That said, he’ll pretty much have to, since he doesn’t promise to bring much to the table defensively. He’s got a small wingspan for a big man despite his size and frame, and though he’s quick on his feet those arms are going to limit him as a defender and rim protector. If the Bobcats want to win games with this lineup they promise to field (which isn’t as bad as you think: did you know Kemba Walker was statistically better than Damian Lillard in 2012-2013?), they’re going to want to run their comparatively old and busted Eastern Conference foes into the ground. Zeller looks like a nice fit for the kind of team it seems like they’re trying to build, and that’s the first time I think I’ve ever said that.

AARON MCGUIRE'S HOT SPORTS TAKE

Cody Zeller's favorite fish is cod. His favorite game is Call of Duty. He owns a city in Wyoming.

5. Phoenix Suns – Alex Len – Center
Len is a prospect I love for his physical attributes and skill-set. He's also a prospect I’d be terrified of taking, at least with his injury history. Stress fractures are no joke when it comes to big men, and even for an organization with a supernaturally effective medical staff like the Suns, its reason to take pause. That said, the Suns are in dire need of anything resembling upside, and if they can keep him healthy, Len shows promise of a Hibbert-esque force in the paint. With Gortat looking ready to catch the first flight out and Jermaine O’Neal being where he is in his career, the center position is as good a start as any for a Phoenix organization looking for a long-term piece.

AARON MCGUIRE'S HOT SPORTS TAKE

Fun fact: Alex Len is a boy, not a girl! Woah! National Basketball Association? More like National Boys Association.

6. New Orleans Pelicans – Nerlens Noel – Center
Wait, scratch that.

6. New Orleans Pelicans – Jrue Holiday – Point Guard
Since Noel got flipped to Philadelphia, this draft pick becomes more about the acquisition of Jrue Holiday. I’ve seen some frustrated thoughts on both ends of the spectrum, but I see this as the rare trade where things worked out on both ends. Jrue will presumably start at point guard for the Pelicans, creating a formidable backcourt tandem with Eric Gordon (who, to his credit, seemed pretty excited about the move on Twitter). That’s a heck of a lineup, particularly if Davis can gain some weight and become more comfortable playing a small-ball 5 next to Ryan Anderson. That’s a squad that can run you ragged up and down the floor in transition AND execute from the perimeter and on the pick and roll in the half-court. Give them some time to gel and they’ll be a tough out. The wild card in this whole scenario is Grieivis Vasquez, who the Pelicans will presumably want to bump to sixth man. Vasquez [Ed. Note: He led the league in assists] was one of the more underrated players in the entire league [Ed. Note: which he led in assists] last season [Ed. Note: a season which culminated in him leading the assist leaderboard], and his combination of size and skill [Ed. Note: at assists, which he led] make him a versatile and potent option for a team to have in its second unit. But being the sixth man can be touchy for guys [Ed. Note: especially guys who led the league in assists], and there’s no way of telling how Greivis [Ed. Note: Who also led the league in assists.] will feel about potentially playing that role [Ed. Note: He also led the league in assists last season]. Regardless, this is still an exciting Pelicans team that I’m going to be making some trips to New Orleans to check out.

AARON MCGUIRE'S HOT SPORTS TAKE

If the Pelicans regret this acquisition, they should take a Holiday in order to Jrue their decision to trade for him. (I am horrible.)

7. Sacramento Kings – Ben McLemore – Shooting Guard
One of the few predictable picks of the draft, McLemore was one of two “sure things” available (next to Oladipo). There was no way he was sliding past the Kings, who’ve never met a scoring guard they didn’t like. Jokes aside, this is a great fit for the Kings roster assuming Tyreke makes on his way out the door. Though he’s a restricted free agent, it’s unlikely the Kings opt to match an offer on him. Despite his disappointing decline since his stellar rookie season, Tyreke still has plenty to offer for a number of teams that need a complimentary backcourt piece and have the money to pay for it. The McLemore pick seems to reinforce the notion that the Kings are looking to change up their rotation at two-guard. And I can’t fault the pick at all. Athletically gifted, talented and fundamentally sound shooter, NBA-ready body; McLemore has it all for a team looking to add a ready contributor. McLemore’s shooting ability should open up a new dimension for the Kings’ offense. My only concern would be that the Kings’ biggest problem hasn’t really been their offense. They find ways to score, usually. Rather, their biggest problem has been their completely non-existent defense. Whether that’s the result of coaching or personnel, I’m not qualified to say, and it’s hard to look at the dismal state of the Kings roster and say they should look at defensive big men to complement Cousins rather than someone who can contribute more tangibly. But it’s certainly food for thought going forward.

AARON MCGUIRE'S HOT SPORTS TAKE

You can't spell "McLemore" without "More Mel C." I agree, Sacramento. You can't get enough Spice Girls.

8. Detroit Pistons – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Shooting Guard
I haven’t heard a ton of chatter on this pick, but it strikes me as one of the better picks in terms of roster suitability. The rap on Pope (Is that right? Or is it Caldwell-Pope every time?) is that he’s a shaky ball handler and not much for driving the rim. He’s more of a perimeter creator, possessing excellent touch from long-range and a good eye for getting his shot off of screens and shaking loose to create spot-up opportunities for himself. Luckily, the Pistons already have two ball handlers in Calderon and Knight, one of whom is capable of spacing the floor at an elite level and the other serviceable at creating opportunities at the rim. While Caldwell-Pope is a shooting guard, he’s got great size at 6’6”. He may be a liability on defense at the NBA level due to his small wingspan, but he’d likely be an upgrade seeing minutes at small forward over Kyle Singler. The Pistons have accumulated a number of surprisingly promising young pieces, particularly their frontcourt lineup of Monroe and Drummond, and I’m hoping Maurice Cheeks will see the benefits of giving Drummond time on the floor over Jason Maxiell. Fun fact: Maxiell remained an NBA starter in the year of our lord 2013. Cheeks’ head coaching record isn’t sterling, but he’s also been placed in some unfortunate situations personnel wise. This is his first real shot with a young and talented roster. Let's get it, Pistons.

AARON MCGUIRE'S HOT SPORTS TAKE

Pope is 76 years old. What kind of a handle can you really expect to have at that age, anyway? Dumars strikes again.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves – Shabazz Muhammad (via Trey Burke)– Shooting Guard
Going into last season I was reasonably confident that the Wolves could be a playoff squad in the Western conference. I penciled them in as a fair shot at the 8th seed, at least. Then there was the Love injury, Rubio’s recovery took longer than expected, and things sort of flew off the rails. With the news that AK47 (an underrated contributor to what success the Timberwolves mustered last season) has opted out of his contract, even healthy the Wolves’ prospects look a little dimmer. But Muhammad adds a dimension Minnesota hasn’t had in quite a while: a legitimate scoring wing. And despite the media fallout surrounding his personal life and his underwhelming performance over the past year, I’m still a believer in Shabazz’s prospects as a real NBA contributor. If nothing else, he adds depth at a position the Wolves sorely need depth at.

AARON MCGUIRE'S HOT SPORTS TAKE

Excuse me, Mr. Harmon, we do not use curse words here at Gothic Ginobili. For shame. His name is "Shabutt." Get it right.

10. Portland Trail Blazers – CJ McCollum – Shooting Guard
Injury issues aside (a broken foot isn’t anything to sound the alarms over when it comes to small guards), the criticisms of McCollum going into the draft centered mainly around his status as a scoring guard in point guard’s clothing. Luckily for him, the Blazers are quite set at both point guard and backup point guard, and instead are much more in need of a capable shooting guard or a scorer off the bench. I doubt he’ll start over Wes Matthews' steady hand given his smaller size, but his game screams “bench spark” and that’s a role he should be able to perform to expectations with this season’s Blazer squad. Given the Blazers had virtually no bench in 2012-2013, those expectations shouldn’t be that high. Notably, Portland recently snagged Thomas Robinson, making it fair to speculate a Blazer bench mob pairing the two. But one should be careful in speculating the ultimate destination of that ill-fated Kansas forward, as he travels about the Association helping to set cap space right which once was wrong, leaping from team to team, hoping each time that this is the final leap home.

AARON MCGUIRE'S HOT SPORTS TAKE

CJ represents the very first former White House Chief of Staff to make it in the NBA. They call him The Jackel.

A Case of the Small Market Shakes: Kevin Durant Signs with Jay-Z

durant and jay z

The NBA Finals have come and gone. I haven’t had much to say about how they played out since Game 7, and it’s probably best for all of us if I keep it that way. However, if you’re really curious, it’s accurate to say that the fan in me was displeased. Yet here we are! The wounds remain but the hardship is momentarily over for those of us whose teams were not destined for golden glory. It’s that most wonderful time of year, the off-season! Soaring hopes! Speculation! High crests of cheering excitement and cavernous voids of crushing disappointment. Hey, come to think of it, it’s actually exactly the same NBA fan experience one endures the rest of the year... only with front office dudes in suits rubbing their foreheads instead of sick dunks.

Huh.

Well, here we are. We’re only a brief time away from draft night, and we’ve already seen some intriguing trade developments regarding picks and coaching staffs. But those topics are complex, and deserving of their own posts. Here I’m going to stick to a subject you probably stopped caring about two weeks ago, if you even cared in the first place: Kevin Durant’s signing with Jay Z's Roc-Nation.

Should we be concerned that Kevin Durant chose to change agents? Should Oklahoma City fans be quivering in small market inadequacy at creeping thoughts of the star fleeing for the bright lights of one of the coasts? If all that sounds kind of silly, it’s because it is. (It's also because I’m laying it on pretty thick.) Despite this story breaking amidst one of the most exciting NBA Finals in recent memory, the questions it apparently raised in the minds of both Thunder fans and the larger public have gained a surprising amount of traction. Why would small-market hero Kevin Durant abandon Rob Pelinka and join the unproven glitz of Roc-Nation representation? What does this mean for Durant’s future in Oklahoma City? The answers may surprise you.

• • •

First, I don’t think anyone should be shocked Durant decided to seek new representation. People who track these sorts of things have noted that in this past season, KD had more nationally televised ad appearances than any other NBA player. I’m willing to take that claim at face value; I’ve seen that Sprint commercial with the shrunken up PJs and watched KD ride a bicycle real fast in a dorky helmet enough times that I see them on the back of my eyelids when I go to sleep. Plenty of people defending Rob Pelinka’s representation have used Durant’s high number of appearances to argue that KD should be more than happy with his current situation, and has no reason to leap to an unproven partner like Jay-Z. (Related note: there’s a surprisingly large contingent of online commentators with deep-seated investment in the success of high-profile sports agents. Who knew?)

I think the idea that Durant "should be happy" requires a little critical examination. What commercials do you remember seeing Durant in this season? There are the ones I mentioned, with the pajamas (by far the family favorite), and there’s the disappointingly un-prescient Gatorade ad with Wade. There’s that one BBVA one where he spends much of his time in background while the camera’s attention stays firmly focused on some guy that looks like Gary from FX’s Justified. There’s the one where he rides the bicycle. Supposedly there’s the “KD is not nice” advertisement, but I’ve never seen that air once on television and wouldn’t know it existed were it not for YouTube.

Now, compare these campaigns and appearances with Chris Paul’s “Cliff Paul” line. That campaign was EVERYWHERE. It had charm and creativity; it featured Chris Paul foremost in a quirky situation. It had an alter-ego (a classic staple of any advertisement using an NBA player). It was played out in gags at nationally televised games, in social media, and achieved the kind of crossover appeal you only see from really catchy campaigns. My grandmother hasn’t watched an NBA game in her life and barely knows who Michael Jordan is. She still asked me about Chris Paul after being charmed by those ads.

How about Adidas’ campaign for Derrick Rose? You know, The Return? Hashtags on hashtags? That guy didn’t even end up returning, and it was STILL one of the most successful and culturally successful campaigns pitched in a long while. Appropriate for a dominant Bulls star, it went beyond simple cutesiness or sight gags, aiming instead for myth-making. The melodrama and production of it all was evocative of classic Jordan ads, a throwback to a time not-so-long-ago when a players’ brand and advertisements were carefully cultivated to establish fantastical mythology of the highest order. It was the kind of ad not interested in marketing Derrick Rose, the player you haven’t seen in a while here to tell you about his new shoe, but instead in marketing D-Rose, injured warrior training through the void of night in a darkened gym, obsessively striving to rescue a city plunged into stasis by his tragic undoing. He wears cool shoes while he does it, but it’s beside the point.

Both these are examples of classic advertisement choices made by Paul and Rose’ management respectively. Creative Arts Agency made Chris Paul a family name. BJ Armstrong made Derrick Rose (at least temporarily) more myth than man. Rob Pelinka made Kevin Durant that guy the dad in the Sprint commercial turns into, where the pajamas don’t fit? Shocking that he might think Jay-Z could have a fresh strategy for his career. Simply shocking. Of course, then there’s that other nagging question, made more real for Oklahoma City fans and small markets everywhere by the possibility that Jay-Z will succeed in expanding Durant’s exposure and personal brand: what if this means Kevin Durant will leave Oklahoma City?

Maybe he does. But anyone panicking about it should remember he’s not a free agent, and has multiple years left on his contract. Between now and then, who knows what could happen? Maybe Oklahoma City seals a championship, propelling both the team and Durant’s career to new heights, and the idea of him leaving becomes preposterous. Or maybe the team has imploded after seasons of missed opportunities, injuries, poor front office decisions, and Durant’s decision to leave is entirely understandable. There's simply no way to peer into our crystal balls and divine what the future will hold for the Thunder or for Kevin Durant’s best interest, we can only exist in the now.

So here’s what the now is: Kevin Durant chose a partnership with a successful businessman who he both holds in high personal esteem and recognizes as skilled in cultivating a successful personal brand. He likely recognized that while Jay-Z the agent is “unproven,” Roc-Nation the agency is not, being nothing more than a new component and brand of Creative Arts Agency. I mentioned them earlier as being the representation for Chris Paul, but they also are responsible for players like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Tony Parker, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, and others. Successful players all, they occupy small and big markets alike. What Kevin Durant made was a rational business decision, nothing more. Anyone having a case of the small-market shakies shouldn’t lose sleep over it. After all, Wade probably won't even get the chance to block us.

The Outlet 3.16: Forgettable Jazz (also: The Worst Outlet Ever Written)

outlet logo

Remember how we had that one series, a long time ago, where we'd entreat our writers to scribe short vignettes on the previous night's games? We've consistently discovered there's no way for us to do that every night, but with the capsules done and Aaron back in the saddle as a more active managing editor, we're hoping that we can bring the feature back as a weekly Wednesday post. Sometimes Thursday, like today. As always, the vignettes may not always be tactful, tacit, or terse -- they'll always be under a thousand words, though, and generally attempt to work through a question, an observation, or a feeling. Today's short pieces are as follows.

  • UTA vs OKC: The Forgettable Utah Jazz (by Jacob Harmon)
  • POR vs LAL: The Worst Outlet Ever Written (by Alex Dewey)

And yes, this does mean that the next episode of Fallout: Phil Vegas comes Friday. Alas. Read on after the jump. Continue reading

The Outlet 3.03: The Perkins Play and Mike Brown Minutes

Fans' emotions are vacillating between unreasonable optimism and abject panic on a nightly basis, so you know what that means: The 2012-2013 NBA Season has officially begun! And with the return of the season, comes the return of The Outlet! You might even say we're back in the swing of things. Usually we preface these posts by reminding you not to call it a comeback, but go ahead. Call it a comeback. The Outlet is officially back, whenever we see fit to publish one, and recently that seems to be more often than ever! It's truly a bright new age of semi-regular Dadaistic sports interpretation. Get ready, fansketball.

  • OKC vs ATL: A Brief Examination of the Perkins Play (by Jacob Harmon)
  • LAL vs DET: Mike Brown Minutes and the Essence of Comedy (by Alex Dewey)

Continue reading

USA vs. Nigeria and The Skipping Young Instrument of My Tennis Apocalypse

Wow. What do you even write about what Team USA did to Nigerian basketball last night? Do you start with addressing Carmelo's 37 points in 14 minutes? Do you talk about all the threes? The 80+ point margin of victory? There's very little of substance to be said about the obliteration that took place on the London hardwood last night.

Oh sure, there's already plenty of talk about sportsmanship, or about whether Team USA should be considered bullies, or that this might be a strong argument for the implementation of an under-23 rule. This talk will continue as the tournament goes on, even though these discussions are well played out, just like the talk continued and the played itself out before in 1992, as The Dream Team rattled off their campaign of dominant performances bordering on mockery. I have no doubt that better, and more interested writers than myself likely have much to say about these topics, and how this game does or doesn't play into the grand narrative of something or another.

So I'm just going to talk about tennis instead. Continue reading

On Heroes, Villains, and Durant's Time

Narratives are a powerful thing. For whatever reason, that seems to be a controversial statement, particularly in NBA blogging circles. Stats are king, you see. My kingdom for the purity of the game. Efficiency, ball-sharing, teamwork. But like it or not? The narrative -- lacking in substance though it may be -- is important. It’s the truth. Sports are entertainment, at least as a commodity. Professional athletes are for most of us as unknowable and inscrutable as a famous actor or politician. They’re caricatures, into which we plug the stories we’ve heard, the way they act on the court, and the individual components of their game. At times we project upon them our own personalities, our own flaws and sympathies, our own feelings on what’s important to the game, and in life.

Continue reading

Yet Another Bobcats Blowout (or: I want to believe)

Everyone give a warm welcome to Jake Harmon, one of our two newest contributors. Jake will be contributing odd fictional tales and reflections of an NBA fan living in the depths of the United States, also known as Alabama. It's tough out there for an NBA fan. He's a political science major who'd much rather major in "deep thoughts about basketball." We enjoy those thoughts, so we'll endeavor to give him the platform to do that. Have at his first piece, an excellent muse on a dreamlike Bobcats game, and the last part in our trilogy of independently written Jordan posts that were -- somehow -- happened to all be connected anyway.

Sometimes I fall asleep at night, and I dream about watching a Bobcats game. And they're just getting blown out, the camera cutting around looking for the perpetually visibly frustrated Jordan. The camera finds him and fixates on him, and he just looks livid, wringing his hands, tongue out a little bit, eyes intent. The Bobcats turn the ball over and get dunked on again. The crowd is silent, the only noise in the stadium the low murmur of disinterested small talk between the odd fans scattered around the arena's stands and the squeaking shoes, the pounding of leather on the hardwood. There's no talk between the beaten Bobcats, they shuffle up and down the court seeming mentally checked out. Going through the motions. Another botched possession, fastbreak, dunk. Bobcats down 30 in the third. And just then, Jordan knows he can't take it. The camera maintains its focus on him, seemingly for an inordinate amount of time. As though the cameraman senses the man in the stands will be more significant to this game's outcome than anything currently taking place on the floor. As I sit and become transfixed by the prolonged shot, that surreal mixture of timing, imagery, and silence, something magnificent happens. And somehow, much like the cameraman, I watch it unfold and question if I ever really thought it wouldn't happen. Jordan is overwhelmed, he stands up from his seat; not in anger or exasperation, but with an intense focus and steely gaze that, while different cast upon his now aged visage, seems somehow intrinsically right. As true and compelling as phases of the moon, not a mask of indifference but a revelation of passion that millions and millions of people around the world forever have burned into their memory. Continue reading