HAWKSVILLE - Next time I’ll listen.
In the wake of the Hawks’ being swept out of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Cleveland, people that watch NBA basketball as much and as hard as I do kept warning me that Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic would end the reign of the King (LeBron James).
No one was more vocal about it than Tracy Johnson (Joe Johnson’s uncle) of Little Rock, Ark. He warned me several times, and he actually started during the Magic-Celtics series, not to put too much stock in Cleveland’s four-game demolition of the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The “matchups” would carry the Magic, he said. And he was right. The Cavaliers never did find an answer for Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. I’m not sure they made a sincere attempt to find an answer.
Well, there is no answer, at least not a one-man answer, for Howard, who has stolen James’ thunder as the youngest and most promising NBA talent in these playoffs.
Tracy’s warnings went beyond the playoffs, though, extending to the Hawks’ issues in the Southeast Division – if you haven’t noticed already, there’s a big bad bully on the block now in the division and the Eastern Conference and it’s not the King (who remains the most mercurial talent of his generation).
Even worse for the Hawks and everyone else, there is no Mickael Pietrus for Howard. Pietrus effectively harassed James long enough on the defensive end to allow the Magic’s other matchup advantages to swing the series. And when given a choice between defending the Magic’s 3-point shooters or double-teaming Howard … the phrase pick your poison doesn’t do it justice.
Now, the rest of the division, the Eastern Conference and perhaps the league (depending on what happens in the NBA Finals) must figure out how to build a team capable of beating Howard’s Magic.
YOU WON’T FIND A SOLUTION FOR HOWARD IN THE NBA DRAFT. No one stacks up physically, shoulder to outlandishly buff shoulder to the former Southwest Atlanta Christian star.
And the measurements from the NBA’s pre-draft combine in Chicago made that abundantly clear. Our friends at DraftExpress (one stop shopping for all things draft) were kind of enough to compile and share this handy chart for our viewing pleasure. To say this draft is light on big bodies would be an extreme understatement.
By my count, there are only 12 players that measured a legitimate 6-9 or taller. Just 12. That’s not exactly a smorgasboard of options for teams in need. The bigger question is where have all the big boys gone?
That shallow pool of bog bodies makes the prospect of locating a quality big man in this draft extremely difficult for teams picking outside of the lottery (teams like the Hawks).
Still, I’m hearing rumblings that North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough is one of this draft’s risers right now. The Hawks are in need of help along the frontcourt but I was thinking someone bigger than Hansbrough. Still, if they’re on the board at 19 and have Hansbrough rated higher than any of the point guards available …. it’s happened here before folks (Shelden Williams over Brandon Roy ranks up high in the draft gaffe Hall of Fame). You know it as well as I do. NBA executives always tend to value size over anything else, to their own detriment most times.
My two favorite point guards in this draft, North Carolina’s Ty Lawson and Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn, are nearly identical in every department (a shade over 6-foot, a couple ounces over 195 pounds depending on what they ate for breakfast that day). I’m a lot less interested in their combine numbers than I am in what they do when the big lights come on. And both of these guys get it done come game time.
IN ADDITION TO THE DRAFT CHATTER, FREE AGENT AND TRADE TALK IS HEATING UP around the league. That’s always a good thing for us, since the prospect of something that’s virtually impossible always seems to generate a greater response than anything remotely possible.
The Hawks won’t be the only team scouring the NBA landscape for frontcourt help this summer. Apparently the team that vanquished them in the playoffs is in need of a little updgrde up front as well, per my man Bob Finnan of the News Herald in suburban Cleveland.
One player mentioned in Bob’s story that will no doubt be mentioned in many others as the summer drags on is Hawks reserve center Zaza Pachulia.
Every playoff team in need of a depth along the frontline is going to be interested in a player like Zaza, for obvious reasons (he has the size, experienced and ability needed to play a vital role for a contender plus he’s going to be affordable for most teams because he’ll command a salary around the mid-level exception over the course of the next three or four years – similar to the four-year $16 million deal he just finished up with the Hawks).
Pachulia’s an unrestricted free agent, meaning the Hawks will have to compete to keep him. And I’m not sure he isn’t there most crucial free agent they need to retain because of the dearth of quality and affordable bigs on the market.
I know several of the Hawks’ competitors in the Eastern Conference are interested, I’ve spoken to executives from four teams that have brought his name up in our conversations over the past two weeks.
There are other guys in that realm with higher profiles (guys like Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, Chris Wilcox, Joe Smith and others) that are a bit of a risk compared to Pachulia because they’re older and perhaps will command a bit more money (in the case of Wallace).
I thought Pachulia was a monster bargain when the Hawks snagged him initially. The expectations were raised after his first season with the team, when he was thrust into a starting role and flourished after Jason Collier’s sudden and tragic death. Pachulia for anything near the same price right now is an equally monstrous bargain.
I know everyone is always interested in upgrading. But sometimes it’s not nearly as easy you might think to get a better bang for your buck. And whatever you think of Pachulia, he’s a good bargain for a player with his credentials.
BACK TO THE DRAFT BUZZ, the one player’s name that keeps coming up in all the conversations I’m having with people is Jrue Holiday. The UCLA point guard, who has yet to cement his draft situation by hiring an agent, is following in the footsteps for former Bruin and Oklahoma City standout Russell Westbrook.
Both players played alongside a pretty good point guard in his own right (Darren Collison) and both played in the ultra-structured system of Bruins coach Ben Howland, so like Westbrook, there’s likely a lot more to Holiday’s game that we haven’t seen yet.
Holiday’s work at the pre-draft camp, coupled with his fantastic size (6-4 and change and a solid 200 pounds) and tremendous ceiling (he’s just 18) has done wonders for his stock with NBA types. If he decides to stay in the draft, he’s all but worked his way out of the Hawks’ range at 19.
While the buzz about Holiday intensifies, the buzz about fellow California teenage point guard Brandon Jennings appears headed in the opposite direction. A less then stellar showing in Italy this past season didn’t help the preps-to-Europe trailblazer’s cause, though I can’t imagine what anyone expected of him making that kind of transition (I’ll be curious to see if their are similar, oversized expectations placed on Ricky Rubio if his first year in the NBA is next season).
Jennings reportedly spurned an offer to work out at the Reebok Eurobcamp (their version of the pre-draft camp), sending NBA executives scurrying to find answers as to why he would pass up an opportunity to “compete” in front of the assembled brass. But what more do you need to see from Jennings to make an adequate assessment of his game?
If you need more on the draft crop, though, check out the athleticism test results from the pre-draft camp (courtesy of our friends at nbadraft.net, yet another fabulous site devoted to all things draft).
SPEAKING OF EXPECTATIONS GONE AWRY, I CANNOT BELIEVE FOLKS ARE STILL groaning about the Marvin Williams-is-not-Chris-Paul madness.
I know it hurts for some of us to do this, even after all these years, but it really is time to let go. Just throw darts at your Billy Knight poster for the rest of your life. But let it go.
And for the record, Marvin wasn’t the No. 1 pick in that 2005 draft. That honor belonged to Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut, who has yet to distinguish himself as anything other than a wanna-be-dominant NBA big man (I’d argue that Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani is looking like a better pick these days).
Marvin’s first four years have been respectable and far from bust material (anyone seen Darko Milicic in a uniform lately? Anyone. Anyone. Bueller?).