Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Lottery Mock Draft

1. Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl-Anthony Towns
Consider this a wishful pick. I think they'll take Okafor because Flip seems enamored with him, but for good luck I'll put Towns here. I hope I eventually look like a fool by writing this last week, either by the Wolves taking Towns or Okafor being better than advertised. I laid out what I think about both of them in that column.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Jahlil Okafor, C Duke
See above.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
D'Angelo Russell
Maybe I'm biased because I'm a Minnesota fan who watched Russell destroy the Gophers this year, but I can't see Russell not succeeding. He's  a below average defender, but his versatility on offense is what makes him special. He's a natural scorer from the two guard but can distribute from the point if you need him to. He's a safe pick.
4. New York Knicks
Kristaps Porzingis
Almost every year there's a foreigner who shoots up draft boards and the general public believes it because nobody's seen him play. From Dante Exum to Jan Vesely to Yi Jianlian all the way back to Darko.  All I've seen of Porzingis are highlight videos. He seems to have a good shooting stroke, and the potential is definitely there. At worst I think he's a solid stretch four for a decent team.
5. Orlando Magic
Justise Winslow
I couldn't be a bigger Winslow fan. He's a freak athlete, tenacious defender and is just good enough of a shooter to stay afloat in the league. Now there's a chance a team takes Mudiay over him? Winslow's the best wing in the draft and has the athleticism to make in impact right away in the NBA. After him the talent levels off.
6. Sacramento Kings
Emmanuel Mudiay
Mudiay is the one of the few guys in the lottery I would stay away from. We've seen too many large point guards in the league who can't shoot a lick struggle, like Michael Carter-Williams and Dante Exum. The league's going in a direction where everybody is more skilled. I don't see Mudiay fitting in anywhere.
7. Denver Nuggets
Willy Cauley-Stein
This seems like a good fit for WCS. After the Josh Smith debacle I don't think the Pistons are interested in another big man who can't shoot, especially with Andre Drummond fill the position, and I don't see how he fits in with DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento if they keep him. The Nuggets will get a reliable rim protector in a slot where they need to snag the best player since they're rebuilding with Ty Lawson's impending exit.
8. Detroit Pistons
Mario Henzoja
Another high risk high reward foreigner. Regardless of where on the spectrum Henzoja falls he'll be entertaining. He's among the most cocky players in the draft, even occasionally going out of his way to dunk on opponents when a layup would have done. He'll add some spark to a stagnant Detroit offense.
9. Charlotte Hornets
Cameron Payne
I'm always skeptical of players at small colleges who lit up poor competition and saw their stock rise because of workouts. It just doesn't add up. Why would a team value what someone did in a controlled environment over, I don't know, maybe actual games? Oh yeah, because half of all GMs are morons. I forgot about that. Payne's stock has been rising faster than tides during global warming recently mainly because of that. He can score, but he did it on a Murray State team that needed him to carry a heavy load. I'm not sure he can do adjust in the NBA.
10. Miami Heat
Stanley Johnson
After four straight gambles, we have a safe pick. Johnson's a physical wing who will play well opposite to Dwyane Wade. The bigger, more athletic Johnson can help hide Wade on defense and provide a little scoring. I could see the Heat being a playoff team in the putrid east next year with the Dragic-Wade-Johnson-Bosh-Whiteside combination.
11. Indiana Pacers
Myles Turner
The enigmatic Turner had one up and down season under Rick Barnes in Texas after being a top recruit at the beginning of the season. His shooting ability and rim protection make him a safe pick; at the very least he'll be a solid role player, but he needs to add strength so he can't be pushed around as easily under the basket to be anything more than that.
12. Utah Jazz
Kelly Oubre
I love this pick for the Jazz. There were questions about his work ethic at Kansas. I don't see that happening in Utah. If he dedicates himself he can be one of the best players in the draft, and there's no better place for that to happen than Salt Lake City.
13. Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker
Perfect pick here. The Suns need a shooter and Booker is just that. Even though they traded Goran Dragic, they're not completely rebuilding because of the promising core of Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris and Alex Len. Booker can stretch the defense and open things up for Len down low.
Oklahoma City Thunder
14. Frank Kaminsky
As strange as it seems for a team that nearly made the playoffs last year, the Thunder have a lot of holes to fill outside Westbrook and Durant. Kaminsky and Trey Lyles look like the best players available here, but they don't need a four in Lyles since they already have Serge Ibaka. Even though he was the main man at Wisconsin, Kaminsky can fit in in any situation, whether he needs to score or not.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Future is Here

     I don't usually write about single events. To me, one thing happening just isn't enough to write a column worth reading. On most topics, there just isn't enough substance to get a full column out of it. But I had to write something about Byron Buxton today.
     He's the most important player to come through the Twins system in a long time. Not just because of his immense talent, but because of what he symbolizes: A new era, hope, playoff contention. Since he was drafted he's been the Twins version of Jack Reacher. Few people in the area have seen him in person, he's discussed in reverential tones, and all anybody knows about him is that he's great. Now he's here, and we'll see if he's for real.
     I don't know if it's just the Timberwolves fan side of me scarred from the Jonny Flynn/Wesley Matthews/ Derrick Williams debacles that makes me think this or if it's all Twins fans, but I'm terrified he'll be a disappointment. He's supposed to be the savior. He has to be the savior. We've spent too much time hearing about him, how he'll lead us to the World Series for him to be a bust.
     All this was racing through my mind just before the game started. I pledged to do two things: Number one was to remember that he's a rookie, he'll have bad at bats, swing at bad pitches, make mental errors. Willie Mays started his career 1-26, these things happen. Two was similar to one. It was to temper my expectations. Don't think of him as the next Andrew McCutchen, be patient and have fun watching him develop. This is supposed to be fun, right?
     As the Twins came to bat to start the game they showed the starting lineup. I was relieved to see Buxton hitting ninth. In retrospect, that was Gardy's biggest mistake with Hicks. He put too much pressure on him too early in the season and his career by hitting him leadoff right away. Anyway the Twins scored two in the first, batting six so we know Buxton will hit in the second. Hughes retired the side in the second, the anticipation was building. I'd be lying if I said I knew what Robinson and Escobar did in their respective at-bats. This was all about Buxton, with cell phone cameras making that weird clicking sound, he walked up to the plate.
     He struck out on four pitches.
     That was awkward. He looked like a classic rookie, the final pitch being a breaking ball he swung at in the dirt, right out of the Arcia playbook. His next at-bat was much better, with an 0-2 count he lashed one to third base, forcing Joey Gallo to make a nice pick on it. He still nearly beat it out. Later he struck out on the same pitch he had before, before failing to get a bunt down in his final appearance.
     The failed bunt did give us the chance to see him run the bases, which was by far the most exciting Buxton related moment of the game. While lots of guys on the team could have scored on Rosario's double off the wall, Buxton flew around the bases. There's no other way to describe it.
     Despite going 0-4, I'm hesitantly optimistic about Buxton this season. He looked great on his groundout and seemed to get more comfortable as the game went on. He's very mature and isn't the type to let the attention get to his head. We'll have to see how this plays out. Whatever happens, it'll be interesting.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Thoughts on Okafor, Towns, and Flip

     I wasn't able to watch the NBA draft lottery. I found out the Wolves had gotten the number one pick about an hour after it was announced. I was thrilled. I even did a full fist pump after seeing it. I remained happy for approximately one hour before finding out the news. There are thirty GMs in the National Basketball Association; exactly one of them is leaning towards Okafor. His name is Flip Saunders.

     It's taking all the power I have not to launch into a "WHY US????" rant, but I'll just lay out the facts. Okafor is a better post scorer than Towns. Towns is a better defender, shooter, rebounder, free throw shooter has more upside, and would clearly rather be here than Okafor, who has been indirectly saying he wants to go to Los Angeles since the lottery. Towns is one of the most athletic guys in the draft and would fit in much better with what the Wolves are trying to do by stockpiling versatile athletes who can wreak havoc on the defensive end.

     The biggest weakness of the Timberwolves last season (and there were many) was the inability to protect the rim. Opponents shot 57.9% there last season, worst mark in the league. Towns is likely the second best shot blocker in the field, behind his former Kentucky teammate Willy Cauley-Stein. On the other hand, rim protection and defense overall is Okafor's weakness. Add in the fact that Towns is friends with Wiggins, it's like the basketball gods said, "Hey let's create the perfect center for the Timberwolves". Instead they're going to take Okafor, an excellent offensive player who can't defend the chair I'm sitting in. Last year his defensive issues were protected and somewhat covered up by teammate Amile Jefferson. We’ll come back to this point later.

     In case you haven't noticed. I abandoned the whole facts thing a while ago. Obviously the defense comment is an exaggeration, but remember, Okafor was absolutely destroyed by Frank Kaminsky in the national championship game in March.

In case you don't remember, Duke was a lot better when he was on the bench against Wisconsin in March. With 16:50 left in the game, Kamisnky drew a foul on Okafor, his third, and made both free throws. Jahlil went to the bench after that. The Blue Satans then outscored Wisconsin 15-11 until the 9:18 mark, when they brought Okafor back into the game. The Badgers first possession goes to Kaminsky on the block, who does his weird spin move right to the basket, where he makes the layup and draws another foul. Okafor exits once again. It didn't end up mattering because Duke won, but the point is that Duke couldn’t defend well enough with Okafor and Kaminsky on the floor and Wisconsin took advantage of that. I'm not saying that always has or will be the case, but it’s concerning, especially if he goes to the Wolves, who don’t have someone who can block shots. He’ll spend a lot of games being abused by the likes of Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol, Al Horford, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

 I’m not saying Okafor is a guaranteed bust, even if it seems like I have been throughout this column. He’s the most polished offensive big man in a very long time, and can thrive in the right system, but the Wolves don’t have that. They have an identity with Wiggins and Lavine. The teams with the next three picks, (Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York) are starting completely from scratch. Philadelphia would be an ideal fit. Joel Embiid has the range to stretch the floor and create spacing for Okafor down low, and the athleticism to protect him defensively, like what Amile Jefferson was able to do for much of last year.

            All year people have been trying to turn the Okafor vs. Towns argument into what the Andrew Wiggins vs. Jabari Parker debate was last year: The dilemma of choosing someone who’s great right now or a guy with upside. That needs to stop. While critiquing Okafor’s game I only touched on Towns at the beginning. That’s because his game is simple. He can do anything on the court, shooting, athleticism, defense, and it’s disrespectful to his ability to call a guy that good already an "upside guy". He’s the safe pick. Flip just needs to realize that.