NBA Draft Lottery: Who wouldn’t pick John Wall #1?

The NBA Draft Lottery is tonight, and as always, there is a lot riding on a few ping pong balls. Here is a list of the lottery teams (with their chances of winning the top pick in parenthesis) along with some discussion of their possible strategy if they do win the #1 pick.

ALMOST A SURE THING

Nets (25%)
The Wall-to-New Jersey/Brooklyn rumors have been strong all season, thanks to the Nets’ woeful record and Devin Harris’s struggles. Harris is now viewed as expendable, which means Wall would be a Net if the balls bounce their way tonight.

Wizards (10.3%)
Winning the right to draft Wall would allow the Wizards to cut ties with Gilbert Arenas and the franchise’s gun-toting past. It might also convince a free agent or two to sign for the chance to play with Wall.

76ers (5.3%)
Jrue Holiday is nice, but he’s not going to dissuade the Sixers from drafting a franchise-savior like Wall.

Pistons (5.2%)
See 76ers above but substitute “Rodney Stuckey” for “Jrue Holiday.” That is all.

Pacers (1.1%)
Indiana arguably needs a point guard more than any other team in the lottery, but with just a 1.1% chance of winning, they’re hoping against hope.

Grizzlies (0.7%)
Memphis would be buzzing with the arrival of Wall, who would seemingly be a great fit with O.J. Mayo, a re-signed Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Memphis would likely make the playoffs next season.

Raptors (0.6%)
The chances are very slim, but winning the right to draft Wall would offset the likely loss of Chris Bosh this summer. Neither Jarrett Jack nor Jose Calderon would be enough to convince the Raptors to draft Evan Turner.

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Evans on pace for 20-5-5 season

In his NBA Awards Watch, ESPN’s Maurice Brooks notes that Tyreke Evans is on pace to join LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only first-year players to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in a season. (Note: Evans is actually averaging 20.5-4.9-5.4, but he averaged 5.8 rebounds in February, so if he keeps that up, he shouldn’t have any problem averaging five boards a game.)

Unfortunately, this fine play has not translated to wins. The Kings have lost 25 of their last 32 games, and are now just 20-40 on the season.

Still, it makes me wonder how a 2009 NBA Draft Re-Do would go. The last one I saw still had Blake Griffin going #1 with Evans going #2. Would the Clippers really pass on a player like Evans — who really could have been named to the All-Star Game in his rookie season — for Griffin, knowing that the former Sooner was going to miss his first year with a knee injury? Griffin still projects to be a star, but Evans is the proverbial “bird in the hand” at this point, isn’t he?

In his ROY race, Brooks ranks Stephen Curry second (22-5-7 in Feb) and Darren Collison third (22-4-8 in Feb). Brandon Jennings (11-4-6, 31% shooting in Feb) has lost his touch and is ranked fourth. DeJuan Blair (11-5, 60% shooting in Feb) comes in fifth, but if Antonio McDyess misses any time with a sore knee, Blair should get some extra minutes.

In my Top 10 Head Scratchers of the 2009 NBA Offseason, I wrote the following about Blair:

10. Six teams pass on DeJuan Blair IN THE SECOND ROUND!
When I first heard that there were concerns about Blair’s knees, I thought he might fall into the bottom third of the first round. Even if the guy is missing ligaments in his knees, he was still one of the best rebounders in all of college basketball last season and he ate up #2 pick Hasheem Thabeet in Connecticut. When Blair fell into the second round I was stunned as the Kings, Wizards, Blazers, Nuggets, Pistons and Grizzlies all passed on Blair. A second round pick doesn’t require the same kind of financial commitment as a first round pick, so there’s very little downside if the guy doesn’t pan out. Blair fell and fell, right into the inviting arms of the Spurs, who will be lucky to have him on the roster for the foreseeable future.

Teams just could get their heads around the fact that Blair has no ACLs in his knees. While I sort of understand not wanting to commit first round money, it doesn’t make any sense for the aforementioned teams to pass on him in the second round, where there is very little financial investment. This goes double for the two “contenders” on that list — I’m looking at you Portland and Denver — who should be worried about the short term and not the long term impact of their second round picks. Blair would give the Nuggets some much needed toughness, and he’d sure help in Portland, where half the front line is out for the season with injury.


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David Thorpe says that Marcus Thornton is a better scorer than Brandon Jennings

Wait…what?

In his Rookie Watch: Midseason Awards (Insider subscription required), Thorpe says that Thornton is the next best rookie scorer after Tyreke Evans.

There are a few obvious choices here, but I think Thornton is the most deserving simply because of what he’s done in difficult circumstances. Despite being pulled into and out of the rotation, playing for two coaches already and often getting paired with another rookie in the backcourt, he has been able to put up points and help drive the Hornets back into playoff contention.

Ultimately, I think Thornton will be an excellent scorer off the bench for a contending team. He has supreme confidence in his ability to get a bucket from anywhere.

Difficult circumstances? Thornton has played with Chris Paul and Darren Collison at point guard, maybe the best 1-2 punch at the position in the entire league in terms of setting up teammates for shots. Meanwhile, Brandon Jennings has been asked to run the Bucks offense, deal with the absence, arrival and disappearance of Michael Redd, and has helped Andrew Bogut develop into an All-Star caliber player, all while leading the Bucks in scoring.

Thornton’s has a higher points per shot (PPS), averaging 1.15 to Jennings’ 1.05, but Jennings is averaging almost seven more points per game while being the focus of the opponent’s defensive game plan. Jennings is just as good from long range and gets to the line twice as often. Sure, he’s struggled of late as teams have started to figure out how to stop him, but that’s just it — teams are trying to stop him. Is anyone game planning for Marcus Thornton?

This is a head-scratcher.

Kings in no rush to evaluate Evans/Martin backcourt

John Hollinger writes that vulturous general managers shouldn’t get too excited about the possibility of prying Kevin Martin away from the Kings.

For starters, the Kings lack a great incentive to rush into anything before the trade deadline. Martin and Evans have played only nine games as a tandem, and the Kings would like to get a much longer look at the duo before rushing into any landscape-shifting moves. Second, Sacramento is enjoying its first small taste of success after an awful 2008-09 campaign and is hesitant to make any moves that would upset its momentum.

But mostly, the Kings don’t seem anxious to do anything because both the players and the organization think the pairing can work.

“Kevin isn’t himself yet,” Kings coach Paul Westphal said. “He just needs his timing to get a little better and get some of the rust off, and it’s going to be a really tough backcourt to deal with.”

Both players recognize that they’re going to have to make changes in their games to make the partnership flourish.

“I don’t have a mind frame to go out there and score 30 anymore,” said Martin, who seemed notably more active defensively after basically being a one-man offense last season. “[I’m] just trying to do other things, have more assists and get other teammates involved. While I was out, guys developed, and they’re good players. I show my respect by getting them involved, and [I’ll] attack when it’s there.”

Less than a month ago, I wondered aloud about the possibility of Evans playing small forward, and I still think that’s a viable idea. Evans’ length makes up for his relative lack of height and there’s no reason that the Kings should stick with the mindset that their best penetrator also has to bring the ball up and initiate the offense. Think a smaller LeBron.

So, maybe the Kings should try a lineup of Beno Udrih-Martin-Evans-Omri Casspi and Spencer Hawes or Jon Brockman and see how it goes. With Evans, Martin and Casspi, the Kings have a nice (albeit perimeter) core to build around. If they could find a true back-to-the-basket center (like Chris Kaman, Pau Gasol or Al Jefferson) and a bigger point guard who can hit the three and take on some of the perimeter defensive duties (like Kirk Hinrich or Rodney Stuckey), they’d really be in business.


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Tyreke Evans drains game-winner against Nuggets [video]

That move is almost impossible to guard without double-teaming. He’s so good at getting to the basket, so when he stops and spins, it’s tough for the defender to change direction quickly enough to properly contest the jumper.

He’s currently the frontrunner for the ROY, and it’s doubtful that Blake Griffin is going to get enough games in to catch him. Brandon Jennings and teammate Omri Casspi are the only other serious candidates at this point. Since Michael Redd is starting to play well in Milwaukee and Casspi is Evans’s teammate, it is going to be tough for either guy to usurp him. It would probably take an injury or a month-long slump to turn the tide of the ROY race.

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