Home 9 Non categorizzato 9 Race to the lottery, part 1

Race to the lottery, part 1

Phil Jackson
Autore: Sergio Vivaldi
Data: 4 Mar, 2017

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The Nba held its collective breath when Kevin Durant left the game against the Washington Wizards with an injury, pondering the potential consequences on the title race (spoiler: going from 4 to 3 All-Nba players could be traumatic but chances are the Warriors will be fine). There’s a number of teams that should and does not care about Durant’s injury, and most such teams are usually part of our weekly talks. These teams are busy hoarding ping pong balls that will only be useful on May 16th, the draft lottery night, when the destiny of a franchise could be altered.

No matter what hopes teams had starting the season, most of them had a clear idea of their identity by Christmas time and every possible in-season adjustment has been attempted. Eventual moves done close to the trade deadline, like the Lou Williams, Serge Ibaka or PJ Tucker trades, are a consequence of all the thoughts and evaluation happened in these months. It is time for contingency plans to salvage a negative season, and the plan in the Nba is always the same: fight for the best shot at the #1 pick.

What follows is an attempt to assess the current situation of the bottom 10 teams in the Nba. Teams will not be split according to conferences, since that is irrelevant on Draft Lottery night. Your quick dive into the worst of the Nba starts now. Here. We. Go.

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Sacramento Kings

Buddy Hield, in azione conmtro i Minnesota Timberwolves con la maglia dei Kings

Let’s start with the Sacramento Kings. The team was fighting for a playoff spot before making a U-turn and deciding to trade the only player that might have carried them to that goal. Last week we talked about Buddy Hield, and of course the Kings have no interest whatsoever in winning games. It is paramount to stay in the bottom 10 of the league to keep their own lottery pick (Chicago owns the pick, but it’s top 10 protected), and of course the Kings will hope that the New Orleans Pelicans (more on them later) will be the worst possible team, since the Kings own the Pelicans pick (top 3 protected). The Philadelphia 76ers also have the rights to swap their first round pick with the Sacramento Kings, but news from Philly on Embiid’s health suggest there will be no need to exercise the swap rights. The Kings, despite their bad management, kept some kind of control over their destiny and have a few months to evaluate the veterans at roster.

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New York Knicks

Porzingis

Kristaps Porzingis, vincitore dello Skill Challenge all’All Star Game di New Orleans

Kristaps Porzingis ankle injury gave a huge scare to Knicks fan with talks of ligament damage, but it turns out it was just a bad sprain. But it’s the Knicks and Phil Jackson we are talking about, so there’s plenty of bad news. The season is now wasted and there will be no playoff in New York. Phil Jackson made sure to let everyone know that the next weeks will be used to evaluate which players currently at roster are best fit in the Triple Post Offense, while working to get the best shot at a high draft pick. The Knicks are 25th in Opponent Points per game, and they will have no problem on the losing part. Besides, their defensive guru, Kurt Rambis, he who led some of the worst defenses in Nba history, is now charged with teaching the Triple Post Offense and evaluating players accordingly. The environment around the team is perfectly healthy, what, with a president (Jackson) throwing passive-aggressive criticism to his star player (Carmelo Anthony) in an attempt to convince him to waive the no trade clause Jackson gave him when Anthony signed his new contract with the Knicks a few years ago. The TPO already made one victim, Brandon Jennings asked to be waived and already found a new team in the Washington Wizards. Nothing to see here in New York.

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Portland Trail Blazers

Nurkic

Jusuf Nurkic

When it comes to awful defenses, Portland is even worst than the Knicks and is 26th in Opponents Points per Game. Most of their defensive issues supposedly come from the Lillard-McCollum pairing. Both guards are deemed too small to be an effective first line of defense and Portland opponents tend to have easy access to the paint. There have been talks of splitting the duo, despite both being legit stars in their prime. Whether that will happen or not might have ripple effects on draft night. There is one sure thing for Portland this season: expectations were much higher. The chances to overcome the Denver Nuggets and reach the 8th and final playoff spot are slim, and the team is already working on contingency plans and hoarded on draft picks in trades in January. Beside their own, most likely to fall in the second half of the lottery, Portland has two extra picks. One is the result of a switch between picks with the Clevaland Cavaliers in early January. The second one came in the trade that brought Jusuf Nurkic to Portland and sent Mason Plumlee to Denver. In that trade, the Nuggets also sent the 2017 Memphis pick the owned. Both picks will be towards the end of the first round. Three picks, including one in the lottery, do open up plenty of options for the Blazers. And if they had to make one of their stars available, things might be very different when the next training camp starts.

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Minnesota Timberwolves

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Karl Anthony Towns (a sinistra) e Andrew Wiggins (a destra)

Should the Minnesota Timberwolves have been better than this? Probably not. As great as Karl Anthony Towns has been, he has to improve his lower body strength, because right now he cannot guard bigger, stronger players. The issue was already obvious in his rookie season, but offseason work clearly did not change things. Another summer might do the trick, but this season is gone. As for coach Tom Thibodeau: the Twolves are 16th in Opponents Points per game, which is better than last season 28th. Zach Lavine season ending injury took away an important weapon on offense and a player Thibs was trying to turn (with moderate success) into a non-liability on defense. The great challenge for GM Tom Thibodeau will be resisting the temptation to sign his ex players (this is about you, Derrick Rose) and sign solid veterans who can help one of the five youngest teams in the league. Two possible sources of concern come from Andrew Wiggins development, who is averaging 3.4 assists to 3.2 turnover per 100 possessions, and drafting a player that can help the team more than Kris Dunn in a deep draft.

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Dallas Mavericks

YogiMavs

Yogi Ferrell, con la maglia dei Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks lost Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut. It was pointless to keep them for the rest of the season and were moderately useless in the first months of the season anyway, for different reasons. They added via trade Nerlens Noel, the kind of center that has always made the fortune of this team. For more information, see Chandler, Tyson. But the great story of the season for the Mavs is that among the various point guards (or their reanimated corpses) they went through this season, Yogi Ferrell emerged as their starter. And he has been terrific for them, which is to be expected because Rick Carlisle is one the best coaches in the league. Obviously the team as a whole is pretty awful, in part because Dirk Nowitzki is almost 40, in part because they were plagued by injuries earlier in the season and in part because the Western Conference is ruthless and this team lacks the talent to be good. Coach Carlisle will never be up for a run at ping pong balls and that might cost them an extra win or two and a better position in the standing than what the Mavericks might like, but it will be hard for them to catch the Denver Nuggets and sneak into the playoffs. Essentially, the Mavericks and Trail Blazers have the same problem: the Nuggets are by far the worst defense in the Nba, but they also have the best offense in the league since Jokic is the starting center. Fatigue might slow him down, it’s already happening, but he also posted 4 triple doubles in a span of 30 days, 4th player in Nba history to do it after Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jason Kidd and Oscar Robertson.

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New Orleans Pelicans

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DeMarcus Cousins (a sinistra) e Anthony Davis (a destra) in maglia Pelicans

The trade that shocked All Star weekend gave the Pelicans everything they needed: a bruiser, offensive minded center to pair with Anthony Davis to protect him from the most physically taxing matchups in the league. They also happened to get an All-Nba talent and franchise player (another one). It costed them Buddy Hield and a 2017 top 3 protected first round pick. Cousins will likely be the focus of the offense: he is the better offensive player, a better passer from the post and the elbows and can even run pick&rolls with Davis setting pick. Davis will be free to focus on defense and once they will develop a certain chemistry and familiarity on the court the Pelicans will be a force to reckon with and will have the potential to make some real noise in the Nba. Cousins, of course, will have to keep his technical fouls in check. He already picked his 18th of the season and will be suspended (again) for a game. From now on and until the end of the season a one game suspension will follow every technical fouls he gets. In case you are wondering, Rasheed Wallace owns the record for most technical fouls in a season (41). He set the record in the 2000-2001 season, when he was playing for the Portland Trail Blazers. It feels like Cousins will have to improve on that if he wants to challenge the legendary Sheed. The Sacramento Kings own the Pelicans pick this year, as previously said, and the question is, will it be lottery or playoffs? Honestly, if anyone had to pass the Nuggets for 8th in the West, it will hardly be the Pelicans. It is also too late to hunt for a better chance to land a top 3 pick in May, especially because the risk to ship a top 5 pick to the Kings would be too high. The 20 games remaining are better used to build some chemistry between the two new pillars of the franchise. If Cousins doesn’t get Teed up too often.

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