Wiggins Watch took a bit of a hiatus the last three weeks as there was seemingly always a big trade rumor or something else Celtics related going on on Monday's. But, we're back at it this week, and despite three weeks passing, the tank scene remains similar. We have a ton of teams in the running for the top picks, with other clubs one three game losing streak away from being right in the mix. It's a crowded field - even as we approach the 40% mark of the NBA season.
Before we get to the teams in the race, let's catch up with the top draft prospects and how they've been playing of late.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: 15.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 47% FG, 36% 3 PT
Jabari Parker, Duke: 22.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 54% FG, 47% 3 PT
Julius Randle, Kentucky: 18.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.7 BPG, 56% FG, 72% FT
Joel Embiid, Kansas: 10.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.1 APG, 68% FG, 65% FT
Embiid is the big riser since we last checked in, as the seven footer has proven to be a dominant force on defense and his offensive game is not quite as raw as people originally thought. His numbers would be better if he could stay on the court more, but his propensity to foul (3.5 per game) has limited him to less than 21 minutes per game. Wiggins has been overshadowed statistically by both Parker and Randle, but most draft analysts still put him at the top of their big board because he has the highest ceiling and is the best defender. Parker is probably the favorite for player of the year (along with Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State and Doug McDermott of Creighton), and he seems like the most NBA ready guy on this list.
It's also important to remember that the 2014 draft isn't just loaded at the top, but it's considered the deepest draft we've seen in years. Smart, McDermott, Dante Exum (Australia), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky), James Young (Kentucky) and Rodney Hood (Duke) are all guys that should go in the top 15 and have All-Star potential (not that they'll all be stars, but they all have big time talent).
So while a top three or four pick is still the goal for many of the teams we're about to talk about - you don't necessarily need a pick that high to get a really good player come June.
Ok, enough small talk, let's break down the field.
The Top 4:
1. Bucks, 6-24
2. Jazz, 9-24
T-3. Sixers, 9-21
T-3. Nuggets (own the Knicks pick), 14-15
According to John Hollinger's playoff odds (which also computes lottery odds), the Bucks currently have a 21.1% chance of landing the #1 overall pick. It's not difficult to see why. The Bucks are an equal opportunity loser, losing at home (3-12), on the road (3-12), vs the East (6-18), vs the West (0-6), in regulation (5-19), and in overtime (1-5). Milwaukee has a few really nice pieces in Giannis Antetokounmpo (this name is KILLING me..needs to be copy and pasted every time), John Henson, Larry Sanders and Khris Middleton, but their veterans have been so awful that the Bucks have been unable to compete on a nightly basis, even in the East. Now there are rumors that they want to trade Sanders, who just returned from a thumb injury suffered in a bar fight, and who starts getting expensive next season. If they could unload him and a veteran or two (Zaza Pachulia, Caron Butler, Gary Neal, Ersan Ilyasova), this tank train would be tough to catch.
Utah on the other hand has been playing solid basketball of late, posting an 8-10 record after their 1-14 start. Rookie point guard Trey Burke has emerged as a rookie of the year candidate and Utah is a small forward away from having a fantastic young starting five (Burke-Gordon Hayward-Mystery SF-Derrick Favors-Enes Kanter). The Jazz are likely still bad enough to earn a bottom five record, but their recent run of success could end up hurting their chances to land that SF in this year's draft. After all, Utah already dumped all of their veteran talent last season, so short of injury or benching their young studs, there's not much else they can do to worsen themselves.
And then you have Philly, the pre-season favorites for the #1 pick (Vegas predicted 16 wins for them), who got off to a roaring 3-0 start, but have plummeted in the standings since, losing 21 of 27. Hollinger's system has them finishing 22-60 and places them only behind Milwaukee in the lottery standings, giving them a 17.1% chance of grabbing the first pick. No franchise has seen as many ups and downs over the past two years, as the Sixers morphed from up-and-coming Eastern Conference contender (2011-12 season), to franchise ruined by Andrew Bynum (2012-13), to now a team one lucky lottery away from being pretty damn good (2013-14). Philly got a game changing player in Michael Carter-Williams out of a draft that didn't appear to have many, and have a big time big man prospect ready to play next season in Nerlens Noel. If they can land another stud in June, this would suddenly be a team to look out for.
Tied with Philly at 9-21 is another Atlantic division team, only this one was expected to win 48 games (according to Vegas) and contend for a division title. The New York Knicks. Only, the Knicks don't own their 1st round pick, the Nuggets do. This leaves Denver in surprisingly good shape to land one of the top four picks in the draft, as they have both their own pick (currently 13th in the lottery, but only two games from being 10th) and New York's. And it's not like the Knicks are showing signs of breaking out of it, as they have lost three games in a row by a combined 56 points.
You'd think a team with as much offensive fire power as the Kings would fare better than a .310 winning percentage. But you'd think wrong. SacTown is getting break out performances from both DeMarcus Cousins (22.9 PPG, 11.2 RPG) and Isaiah Thomas (19.2 PPG, 6 APG), and the newly acquired Rudy Gay figured to be a huge upgrade over John Salmons. Yet the Kings can't seem to get out of their own way, having won consecutive games just once in the past six weeks, and having yet to win three in a row all season. At the moment Sacramento has a 7.1% shot at landing the #1 pick, tied for the 5th best chance in basketball.
And here's the team they're tied with. The Cavs were picked as a playoff team by many before the season, but it turns out an off-season where you hire Mike Brown as coach, draft Anthony Bennett #1 overall and sign Andrew Bynum wasn't an ideal plan. Kyrie Irving may end up being just too damn good to let this team sink into the top five in the lottery, but until they can distance themselves from the ongoing Bynum disaster (not to mention the reported Dion Waiters-Irving feud), they're as good as bet as anyone to end up at the bottom of the conference.
Hawks (right to swap with the Nets), 17-14
Everything was breaking Atlanta's way. They were 16-13 and in great shape to be the 3-seed in the East, and the dumpster fire known as the Brooklyn Nets were sitting right near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, ready to hand over a top five pick to the Hawks. But then Al Horford went down with what will probably end up being a season ending injury, and suddenly things aren't quite as bright in the ATL. Sure, the East is terrible, and the Hawks may just be able to claw their way towards 35-40 wins and a playoff spot despite losing their best player. But we've seen teams topple when losing their top dog before, and now Atlanta needs to figure out how to survive in a post-Horford world (something they were able to do with Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, and without Paul Millsap, back in 2011-12). Thankfully for the Hawks, while their season outlook is suddenly not looking so hot, the Nets future is as bleak as ever. Brook Lopez is done for the year, Jason Kidd is possibly quitting on the team, and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett look like they may be toast. And with that in mind, Hollinger's odds give Atlanta a 5.6% shot to land the first pick.
Orlando is moving in the right direction, with a nice young core led by Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris. They also have seen Arron Afflalo break out this year, putting up 21.9 PPG with crazy good shooting numbers, prompting some folks to question whether or not they should deal him. Afflalo is 28-years-old and signed through next season (at an affordable $7.8 million). Orlando could probably get quite a haul for him at this year's trade deadline, stocking up on even more young assets while improving their lottery chances. Or they could decide to build around Afflalo, and offer him a big contract extension that would kick in during his age 30 season. If Orlando is really serious about a rebuild, they should do the former.
A five game losing streak. No Kobe. No Nash. No Blake. Pau Gasol on the trading block. Mike D'Antoni at the helm. I mean is it really surprising that Hollinger's system has the Lakers finishing at 33-49 (and gives them the 9th best chance to get the #1 pick)? But for Celtics fans (and I assume Laker-haters), be careful what you wish for while rooting against LA. The absolute best case scenario for the Lakers is landing a big time talent in the draft right as they free up $25+ million in cap space next summer. At the moment, very few teams have a bleaker future than a Lakers team with no young talent and $75 million tied up in an injured, aging Kobe through 2016. But if they were to suddenly add Parker/Wiggins/Randle and a big name free agent this summer - things would change quite a bit.
Wrapping up the top ten in terms of Hollinger's odds are the Rose-less Bulls, who have a 3.1% chance at landing the #1 pick. You've got to give Chicago this — they play their ass off. With or without Rose, they battle game in and game out under Tom Thibodeau. And that alone should help them win enough games to avoid a top five pick. But if they were to trade Luol Deng, things could change very quickly. And if Rose could stay healthy, a Rose-Noah-Butler-Wiggins/Parker core would seemingly be an overnight rebuild for ChiTown.
The Celtics situation:
We're limiting the official Wiggins Watch to the top ten teams (let's be honest, we could go 15 deep if we really wanted to), but we obviously need to discuss the Cs. Boston is at 13-17 and currently holding down the 8-seed in the East. No team has more to gain or lose with a three game winning or losing streak than the Celtics, who are a single game back of the Raptors (the 4-seed) and a single game up on the Bulls (the 9-seed, and more importantly, the 10th spot in the lottery). At the moment, Hollinger gives the Celtics a 1.8% chance at landing the first pick, the 12th best odds in the league (behind the ten teams listed above and the Grizzlies). But that does not take into account the return of Rajon Rondo or any potential trades that Danny Ainge makes. It's possible Ainge adds to the team with a guy like Omer Asik, or subtracts by dealing Brandon Bass or Kris Humphries. Things could get pretty interesting in January as the Celtics head out on a brutal five game road trip (@OKC, @DEN, @LAC, @GSW, @POR) without Rondo. If Ainge then compounds that with a trade, things could unravel pretty quickly. Then again, if Boston gets to late January with a record of 19-26 (or so), and then Rondo returns, they would have a great shot of contending for the division title. It seems like such a cop out to keep saying this — but we still have no idea what the rest of this season entails. 30 games in and both a top five pick and a division title are still in play. The season of the great unknown continues.
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Michael Dyer 12/30/2013 06:06:00 PM Tweet