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NBA@2: Can Lillard Make ‘Em Pay?
Posted By Joel Brigham On August 9, 2012 @ 2:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Can Damian Lillard Really Make ‘Em Pay?
They say that hindsight is 20/20, which is why it’s so easy to rattle off obvious statements like, “The Portland Trail Blazers should have taken Kevin Durant instead of Greg Oden,” or “The Portland Trail Blazers should have taken Michael Jordan instead of Sam Bowie.”
But things aren’t always so obvious at the time, particularly on draft night—a time when organizations sometimes think and then eventually overthink a situation to the point of making a wrong decision. Bowie, for example, was big, and since Portland already had Clyde Drexler they went with need over the clearly superior talent.
It was perfectly logical when the pick was made, but boy was that pick wrong, and the really sad thing is very similar scenarios play out like that every year. Larry Hughes over Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce. Darko Milicic over Carmelo, Wade, and Bosh. Marvin Williams over Deron Williams and Chris Paul. Every single one of those picks was at least somewhat justifiable at the time, but then looked very, very silly later on.
In a nice change of fate for Portland fans, 2012’s lottery pick Damian Lillard looks like he’ll be the guy who ends up making other teams pay for passing on him. After a strong Co-MVP showing at the Las Vegas Summer League, there were plenty of media heading out of there saying, “That guy’s going to make teams regret letting him slip to #6.”
And that may be true, except for the fact that Lillard never was going to go any higher than that.
Look at how the top five played out; Anthony Davis was the no-brainer top overall pick, and Charlotte was always going to take either Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Thomas Robinson, both of whom came from very strong college systems and had just as much, if not more upside than Lillard heading into the draft. Coming out of Weber State, Lillard was a gamble, while MKG and Robinson were even more highly-touted with seemingly less risk.
Picks three and four were made by teams with two of the more promising young point guards in the league: Washington (John Wall) and Cleveland (Kyrie Irving). They’d have no reason to select a point guard like Lillard. And when Robinson dropped into Sacramento’s lap at #5, there was no way they were going to pass on him when he’s exactly the kind of player they needed to pair with DeMarcus Cousins. Sacramento could have used a point guard, sure, but they’ve already got loads of guards. Their frontcourt was in more dire need of shoring up, and as we’ve already established, Robinson was the safer prospect anyway.
Which leads us to the Blazers and pick #6, which really was a logical place for him to fall. Isn’t saying a sixth overall pick will make other teams pay kind of silly anyhow? This isn’t like Oden over Durant because there was a legitimate debate there. Lillard never really did get himself into the conversation with those top five picks. So if, say, Dion Waiters flames out (probably the most likely top five pick to do so), we can’t just say, “We knew they should have picked Lillard,” because he wasn’t in the conversation. Darko over Carmelo was an argument, but Darko over Dwyane Wade was not, because Wade never was going to be a top-three pick.
Lillard will be a candidate for Rookie of the Year, and he’s going to make Blazers fans very, very happy in the wake of a season that was very, very frustrating. But to say that teams will regret passing on him isn’t really fair. Had Portland gone with Andre Drummond or Austin Rivers and then Lillard went on to be a star, this might be a different conversation. But Portland got it right this time, just not necessarily at the expense of teams who got it wrong.
Adonis Thomas Sees Final Four in Memphis’s Immediate Future
In Greek mythology, Adonis is the god of beauty, renewing himself annually to stay forever the most physically perfect specimen in the universe.
To compare sophomore Memphis forward Adonis Thomas to the god he’s named after might be a little presumptuous, but it is a bit coincidental that an athlete with such pronounced physical gifts would end up with such name.
Whatever his mother’s reasons for giving him such an interesting name, this Adonis is definitely mortal, despite the fact that he’s projected as an NBA lottery pick next summer. He and his University of Memphis teammates were bounced from the first round of the Final Four tournament last year, and that’s something Thomas hopes changes in 2013.
“We were a young team, and there was a lot of pressure on the sophomores and only one or two seniors,” Thomas told HOOPSWORLD after wrapping up at adidas Nations. “It’s the same thing this year… We’re still a young team, but we’re learning more each year. A lot of people have learned so much over the years, and the coaches have elevated us. We’re more mature as a team, and it should be a great run.”
A great run, Thomas adds, that should place the Tigers in the hunt for a National Championship.
“We’ve got a great team this season, and I look forward to us being in Atlanta for the Final Four,” Thomas said. “Each time I step on the floor I know someone’s against me. The team has a chip on our shoulder, and we just want to come out and compete.”
For Thomas, though, that means staying healthy and playing a more resourceful game. He missed a good chunk of last season due to injury and was also asked to play a little out of position at the four. He says his offensive abilities are more varied than that, though, and he’s looking forward to showing them off this upcoming season.
“I knew I had perimeter skills the whole time, but when I got to college coach put me at the four spot because that’s the area we needed some help in,” he said. “But this year at Memphis hopefully I’ll be able to play on the perimeter a lot and showcase a lot more.”
Some changes offensively won’t change the fact that he’s one of more versatile defenders in his conference, though. Like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in Kentucky last season, Thomas can defend four different positions well, which allows him to affect games with his D just as much as he can by scoring the ball.
“I want to guard the best player. If I see someone taking over the game and they’re at one of the positions I can guard, I want to be able to be the player that can stop that player,” he said.
If Memphis is going to perform as well as Thomas so boldly predicts, he’ll need to do everything he’s promising and he’ll need to do it consistently. He might be a mere mortal, but his name suggests he’s destined for much bigger things. This upcoming season of college basketball should be his opportunity to do precisely that.
Bobcats Won’t Be Historically Bad Again
Somehow in a shortened 2011-2012 season, the Charlotte Bobcats managed to make themselves the worst team in NBA history, at least in terms of winning percentage. At 7-59, they finished with a historically awful .106 winning percentage, including a 23-game losing streak to end the year. They were last in the league in scoring, last in the league in shooting percentage, and lost almost a third of their games by 20 points or more. The highest-paid players ended up hurt, and the lottery picks on the roster underperformed.
It was, to put it as simply as possible, a perfect storm for complete and utter mediocrity.
Happily, that isn’t likely to happen again in 2012-2013, as Charlotte has actually made enough reasonable moves this offseason to avoid repeating the record-breaking awfulness.
New acquisition Ben Gordon, for starters, is a much more effective scorer than he was able to show while playing with the Detroit Pistons. Because he never scored more than 13.8 ppg in three years with the Pistons, it’s been easy to assume he’s lost a little something since having left Chicago, but that’s due in large part to his minutes getting sliced. In his last three seasons with the Bulls, he was playing over 30 minutes a night, and he scored over 20 ppg in two of those campaigns. He’s a great scorer when given the opportunity, and that appears to be what Charlotte is ready to offer him.
Rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should be a great help, too. He’s got one of the more NBA-ready bodies of any rookie, and defensively he should bring a certain measure of credibility to the Bobcats’ starting lineup. He’s about as good as they come in the transition game, and he absolutely should add some depth to a roster that definitely needed it.
Ramon Sessions isn’t a definitive upgrade over D.J. Augustin, who bolted for Indiana this offseason, but he’s a bigger point guard with a higher ceiling, and that combined with what should be further development from Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker, and Bismack Biyombo should be enough to dig the Cats out of the league basement. The addition of amnestied Mavericks center Brendan Haywood adds some much-needed veteran leadership in the frontcourt, as well.
It’s not that we should expect the Bobcats to be a playoff team, because that would be completely and utterly ridiculous, but a jump to 20 wins would raise the team’s winning percentage to about .244, and considering where they were a year ago, that would be a respectable uptick. Changes need to be made out there this offseason, and they were. Now the players just have to perform and prove that this upcoming season will be different.
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