Parker-for-Lee…why not?

Tony Parker is rumored to be available for trade, but that has more to do with the presence of George Hill than anything the Spurs have done since their season ended. The Knicks are in dire need of a good point guard, so of course there have been some Parker-to-New York rumors as well.

Chad Ford writes that the Spurs are looking for a big.

The Spurs and Thunder also are in the hunt for a big and have targeted a number of teams in the lottery to move up a few spots. The Thunder have multiple picks to offer. The Spurs have Tony Parker or George Hill. While the Spurs aren’t necessarily shopping either player, they’re not untouchable, either. If the Spurs can get another big man to help prolong Tim Duncan’s career, they’ll do it.

But looking ahead — if the Knicks strike out on their plan to get one of their LeBron/Bosh, Wade/Bosh or LeBron/Wade dream combos, maybe a Lee-for-Parker deal would make some sense.

Let’s say the Knicks strike out on LeBron, Wade and Bosh, but manage to sign a couple of second-tier free agents (Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer, etc.) starting at $14 million per season, that would leave them about $9.5-$10 million to re-sign Lee and then move him for another asset like Parker. That would give the Knicks a core of Parker, Johnson and Boozer moving forward, and give the Spurs a quality power forward to play alongside Duncan. (Remember, Antonio McDyess is still under contract for another season and the Spurs have DeJuan Blair as well.)

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Where do the Spurs go from here?

San Antonio played pretty well down the stretch this season, winning 17 of its last 25 games in March and April. (That’s a 56-win pace, by the way.) The Spurs looked sharp in their first round series against the Mavs, but looked old and slow as they were swept by the Suns.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the Spurs approach this offseason. They just signed Manu Ginobili to an extension, and Tim Duncan is signed for two more seasons, so Tony Parker may be the player most likely to be moved. He has one more year on his contract at the tune of $13.7 million and at just 27, he’s in the prime of his career. George Hill could take over the full-time point guard duties, if necessary.

Trading Parker would be a big shift in direction from a personnel standpoint. San Antonio’s Big Three — Ginobili, Parker and Duncan — have been together for eight seasons and three titles, but they haven’t reached the Finals in the last three tries and haven’t made it out of the semis in the last two years. This begs the question — how big of a change are the Spurs willing to make?

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The Spurs own Texas

The Spurs said they were going to treat Game 6 at home as if it were a Game 7, and that’s the right mentality. You want to close the series out at home if you can, because winning a Game 7 on the road is no easy task.

San Antonio jumped out to a big lead early in the game, and were up 35-16 in the middle of the second quarter when Mavs rookie Roddy Beaubois entered the game. Over the course of the next 16 minutes, Beaubois would score 16 points and lead the Mavs on a 45-28 run that would bring Dallas to within two points with 2:43 to play in the third quarter. The Spurs simply didn’t have an answer for him on the defensive end.

With the Mavs trailing by seven, Beaubois started the fourth quarter on the bench, and didn’t re-enter the game until there was 2:44 remaining in the game. Rick Carlisle wanted to get Jason Terry going, and while he did hit a six-foot runner to cut the lead to two with six minutes to play, that was the only shot he made all night. Mavs fans are left wondering what would have happened had Carlisle brought Beaubois back earlier in the quarter.

From the Spurs perspective, check out this series of scores in the fourth quarter:

6:33 Tony Parker makes 18-foot jumper
5:50 Antonio McDyess makes 13-foot jumper
4:47 George Hill makes 10-foot two point shot
4:07 Antonio McDyess makes 17-foot jumper
3:18 George Hill makes 23-foot three point jumper
1:28 Tony Parker makes 20-foot jumper

Notice anything? For a team that usually leans on Manu Ginobili drives and Tim Duncan post ups, the Spurs scored on jump shots on six possessions in just over five minutes. During that stretch, Tim Duncan didn’t take a single shot, Ginobili missed three shots and Parker missed a 16-footer. Otherwise, they were all made jumpers by McDyess, Hill and Parker. (Ginobili and Duncan did combine for five assists during that stretch.)

After a 29-point performance that essentially won Game 4 for the Spurs, George Hill scored 21 points tonight on 12 shots. Ginobili finished with 26, Tim Duncan had 17 and Tony Parker chipped in with 10. Hill gives the Spurs another offensive weapon to go to in crunch time when the Spurs’ “Big 3” need a break or just aren’t getting it done. As Reggie Miller noted, Hill was a great scorer in high school and college, so he can “score with the best of them.”

I’ll write more about the Mavs tomorrow. As it stands, they just seem like they’ve been snakebitten since losing the 2006 Finals to Dwyane Wade and the Heat. I can’t imagine what is going through Mark Cuban’s mind right now after making several big acquisitions (Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood) over the past few years. He was expecting that this team would make a run to the Finals, but instead, they just lost Game 6 to their arch-rivals and are heading home in the first round. Ouch.

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Aaron Brooks named Most Improved Player

Not to break my arm patting myself on the back, but it looks like my prediction a few days ago was spot on. Aaron Brooks has won the 2010 Most Improved Player award.

The speedy, 6-foot point guard was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player on Thursday, after setting career highs in points (19.6 per game), assists (5.3) and rebounds (2.6). His scoring average went up 8.4 points from 2008-09, the highest increase of any qualifying player.

Brooks earned 403 of a possible 615 points, including 62 first-place votes, from a panel of 123 sports writers and broadcasters. Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City and George Hill of San Antonio tied for second with 101 total points.

This marks the 9th straight year that the award has gone to a player drafted with the 16th pick or later. Sixteen of the last 17 MIP winners were drafted #13 or later (or not at all, in the case of Darrell Armstrong). The award simply doesn’t go to former lottery picks.

Kevin Durant finished second, but as a former #2 overall pick, his superstardom was expected. I am a little surprised that Andrew Bogut didn’t finish in the top three. I thought that the somewhat mediocre start he had to his career would have lowered the bar enough that his drastic improvement both offensively and defensively would have been noticed by the voters.

As for George Hill, after only one TrueHoop panelist voted for him, this is what I had to say:

What about George Hill? He only got one vote from the TrueHoop panel, but the former 26th overall pick improved his numbers from 6-2-2 last season to 12-3-3 this season, and was a big reason why the Spurs stayed in the playoff picture even though they lost Tony Parker for part of the season.

Congratulations to Brooks. He had a very nice season.

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The top 10 first round steals of the last 10 years

Everyone loves to focus on the lottery, but there are good players to be had in the late first round as well. A while back, I put together a list of the top second round picks of the modern era, so now I’m going to focus on those players that were drafted between pick #21 and pick #30 in the first round. (Note: If a player was drafted in the second round, even if they were taken with the #29 or #30 pick overall, they are ineligible to make the list. Sorry, Gilbert.) Since there are more star-quality players available in the 20’s, I’m limiting this list to the last ten drafts (i.e. 1999 through 2008).

It is sometimes tough to rank older players with newer players, but even if a younger player holds more trade value right now, I am going to take into account each player’s entire career. For the young guys, I have to project a little bit, so keep that in mind as you read and react. I feel great about the top eight guys, but there are a few players that missed the list that are pretty interchangeable with #9 and #10.

On with the list…

10. Aaron Brooks, Rockets
26th pick in 2007
I had to decide between Brooks and Nate Robinson here and went with Brooks given his fine performance in the playoffs this season (16.8 ppg, 3.4 apg, 42% from 3PT) and how Robinson’s numbers are a little inflated playing for Mike D’Antoni. Brooks is not a natural point guard, but his sharpshooting is a good fit given Houston’s inside-out attack. He’s small, but he’s quick and is able to score at the rim when given some daylight. The Rockets feel good enough about Brooks to trade Rafer Alston away midseason, so you have to like his upside.

9. Kendrick Perkins, Celtics
27th pick in 2003 (drafted by the Grizzlies)
In the world of “big” guys, I also considered Boris Diaw here, but it’s tough to pass on a 6’10” 24-year-old who averaged 8.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game on a team loaded with vets. Without Kevin Garnett in the playoffs, the C’s needed Perkins to step up his game and he responded with 11.9 points, 11.6 boards and 2.6 blocks per contest. He also did a pretty good job on Dwight Howard, who had his worst numbers of the playoffs against the Celtics.

8. David Lee, Knicks
30th pick in 2005
Isiah Thomas couldn’t make a good trade to save his life, but he could spot talent in the draft. Lee has turned out to be a steal with the last pick in the 2005 draft. He’s an athletic lefty whose best traits are his hustle and smarts. In just his fourth season, Lee averaged 16.0 points and 11.7 rebounds per game, which made him one of the most consistent double-double guys in the league. His stock is so high right now that the Knicks might be able to use him as trade bait in order to land Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire. Maybe they’d be better off sticking with Lee…

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