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Two major story-lines this week:

1. The top picks kind of crapped the bed - Parker laid an egg vs Mercer, Wiggins a bigger egg vs Stanford, Embiid didn't play, and Smart went one-and-done. Two other top ten picks, Tyler Ennis and Doug McDermott, also went down in round two against lower seeded teams. The best college players still around: Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon (whose stock has risen after two monster games). Disappointing to say the least.

2. The Celtics tank weebles, it wobbles, but it won't fall down - for weeks we've thought: " man, this team is about to string some wins together, no chance they can compete with Utah, LA, and Sacramento who have way tougher schedules". And for weeks, the Cs have kept pace, leaving us with only 12 games left, and Boston currently sitting in a tie for the fourth worst record. Obviously a 6-6 finish would still throw a wrench in any plans, but it seems like one week after another this team maintains their spot.

So without further ado, lets talk about each of these in more detail. First up, the college guys, and what's next for them.

Andrew WigginsKansas: 17.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1 BPG, 45% FG, 34% 3 PT

Jabari ParkerDuke: 19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, 47% FG, 36% 3 PT

Joel EmbiidKansas: 11.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 63% FG, 69% FT

Julius RandleKentucky: 15.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 BPG, 0.5 SPG, 50% FG, 71% FT

Marcus SmartOK State: 18 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 42% FG, 30% 3 PT

I've already covered my thoughts on Parker and Wiggins, but a brief rehashing:

These guys were 1-2 for me before their terrible games, and they remain that way now. Fans have a tendency to overreact to one bad game, but these guys remain the two best players in this draft. Parker has his flaws on defense, but is a 20+ PPG guy waiting to happen at the next level. He's the safest pick in this draft, with an offensive arsenal that should be terrifying for opponents from his first NBA game on.

And Wiggins reminds me of Paul George, a physical freak who can lock people down on defense, and just needs to get more consistent at channeling his offensive game. All the pieces are there (smooth jump shot, great first step), but at this point he's not able to bring it night in and night out. The mistake people are making is using his pre-season hype as an all-time type talent against him. No, he didn't make a Durant/Melo type impact, but there are many, many more cases of players not destroying NCAA competition as Freshmen. Compare him to George or Paul Pierce (or Russell Westbrook or Deron Williams) at the age of 18. Just know that if you're saying he's "the next Jeff Green", or that his ceiling is that of an average player, you would have been saying worse things about the above guys after their first season had they received similar hype. Players should not be measured against their pre-season hype, but instead against the rest of their draft class and their NBA brethren. While Wiggins may not be a once-in-a-generation type talent, his talent is fantastic, and averaging 17/6 with great defense at the age of 18 while playing at the highest level of college basketball is not exactly a flop of a season.

As for Smart, well, his college career ended in an appropriate way, as he put up the ridiculous 23-13-7-6 stat line, but OK State fell short against Gonzaga. Smart's a bulldog, and he threw himself into the lane at will down the stretch, earning 19 free throw attempts in the process. Whoever gets him is getting a first rate competitor who is a jump shot (and better shot selection) away from being an All-Star. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Westbrook is the closest comparison, and that's a top-ten player in the NBA.

It was a really nice weekend for Randle, who (surprise, surprise) picked up two double-doubles as Kentucky beat Kansas State and then knocked off previously unbeaten Wichita State. Like Parker, Randle is NBA ready now. He has a body, motor and post-moves that are very conducive to being a walking double-double at the next level, and if he can help KU knock off Louisville, his stock will only rise higher.

As I mentioned above, the biggest winner of the weekend was Gordon, who played two of his best games of the season as Arizona waltzed into the sweet sixteen. He has everything you could ever want in a forward besides a shooting touch. Elite defense (with the ability to guard both threes and fours), great rebounding, an ability to finish at the rim, a crazy high motor, and passing ability. If (huge if) he can improve his dismal shooting (42% free throws) -- the Blake Griffin comparisons could come true.

This year's draft class is insanely deep, with probably 10-12 guys who would have went #1 overall last season. There is no Durant/LeBron type guy (or at least no one who projects to be that guy), but this is the best season in ages to have a pick in the 4-10 range. Something that the Cs will most likely have.

With that said, lets tackle the tank-rank.


Note: The rankings are in terms of record, but I also will list the Hollinger lottery odds, former ESPN columnist (and current Grizzlies front office executive) John Hollinger's simulation system which predicts teams records based on their season thus far and upcoming schedule. The number you see after the Hollinger lottery odds is what place they rank in his system. 


1. Bucks, 13-57 (Hollinger lottery odds: 22.6% - 2nd)

The Bucks are holding on to the #1 lottery spot for dear life as we close down the regular season. Milwaukee is 5-19 in their last 24 games, yet have amazingly watched their 6.5 game lead over Philly fall to 1.5 as the Sixers have gone 0-24. With 12 games left, it's pretty simple for Milwaukee. Barring a Philly win (ain't happening), the Bucks need to finish the season either 1-11 or 0-12 to keep the #1 spot to themselves. 2-10 would create a tie, forcing them to "share" the one and two spots with the Sixers. 3-9 or better (pretty unlikely given their own awfulness) and Philadelphia completes an epic come from ahead tank collapse. All eyes on these two teams.


2. 76ers, 15-55 (HLO: 23.1% - 1st)

If there are in fact lottery Gods, they will not reward the Sixers embarrassing attempt to field a basketball team. Or, they will somehow allow the concoction of terrible players that Philly is currently fielding to win a game or two down the stretch, something that is unlikely, but not completely impossible given their play of late.

This is a team that has lost by single-digits five times in their last six games after losing ten straight by double-digits. Obviously when you're dealing with a team that's lost 24 straight, you really have to reach for positives, but it at least seems as though the Sixers are playing with some semblance of pride in an attempt to not end the season on a historic 36-game losing streak.

Still, they have barely any NBA talent, so don't hold your breath.


3. Magic, 19-52 (HLO: 14.4% - 3rd)

Huge thanks to the Magic for losing to both Utah and the Lakers over the weekend, allowing the Celts to grab on to a share of the fourth spot as of today. Orlando is the one team you can write-in in pen on your tank brackets (I assume you all have tank brackets) as the Magic are 3.5 games up on the Sixers for second, and 4.5 games back of the Celtics for fourth. It's basically impossible for this team to move from the third spot, meaning Orlando will enter the lottery with a 15.6% chance at the first pick, and a 46.9% chance at being in the top-three.


T-4. Jazz,  23-47 (HLO: 8.2% - 5th)

Utah is only 2-11 in their last 13 games, and those wins came against the Sixers (in a game that was tied with less than three minutes to go) and Magic (on a last second Trey Burke three). Despite the fact that their young core (Burke, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors) are all healthy, the Jazz have completely run out of steam. And that's bad news for the Celtics considering Utah's upcoming schedule.

Utah hosts the Pistons tonight, but that's a rare winnable game in a brutal close to the season. Five of the Jazz final 12 games are against Western Conference playoff teams, with additional road games against the Timberwolves, Pelicans and Nuggets, three teams with more talent than Utah at the moment. It's tough to imagine a scenario where Utah wins more than three games down the stretch, meaning the Cs will need to be on their tank game to keep pace.


T-4. Celtics, 23-47 (HLO: 6.4% - 6th)

After wins against the Nets and Heat, things were admittedly looking a bit bleak for the Celtics' lottery odds. But I'm a glass half-full guy, and we need to keep the following things in mind about the Cs as they finish off their final 12 games.

- They are 11-33 since starting 12-14. Yes, they have Rajon Rondo and Brad Stevens. And yes, their supporting cast is decent. But facts are facts, and this team has played like a 20-win club since Mid-December.

- They play eight of their final twelve against Eastern Conference playoff teams. Two each vs the Bulls, Raptors and Wizards, and one apiece against the Hawks and Bobcats. Sure, all of those teams are beatable. But they all have more talent, a better record, and more to play for than Boston. The Cs are also a horrific 8-31 against playoff teams this season.

- Rondo will miss three of the games: @ Chicago, @ Detroit, @ Cleveland as they're the back end of back-to-backs. That's a huge factor, especially the games in Detroit and Cleveland.

Now, on the flip-side, the Celtics have two games against the outrageous tank machine that is the Sixers. Any reasonable fan needs to chalk those up as Ws. But is 2-8 in the other ten games (three without Rondo), and therefore a 4-8 finish really asking for too much? I say no.


6. Lakers, 23-46 (HLO: 9.8% - 4th)

Positives:

1. The Lakers are a less-than-completely terrible 7-14 since early February despite having a D-League roster surrounding Pau Gasol

2. They do have games remaining against the Knicks, Jazz, Kings and Bucks. So at least there are some winnable games left on the ledger.

Negatives:

Umm, everything else. They're a mess of a franchise, they have barely any NBA talent, and they have one game remaining against nine of the top ten teams in the Western Conference. They play seven of the eight playoff teams plus Phoenix and Minnesota to close out the season, a brutal stretch for any team. But especially brutal for a team with a lame duck coach and no talent. The Hollinger odds have had the Lakers fourth for a long time, and with good reason.


7. Kings, 25-45 (HLO: 4.9% - 7th)

While there is reason to hope the Celts can climb as high as fourth on this list, the Kings are the first team that are actually a good bet to finish with more wins than Boston. Sacramento has a two game lead on the Celts, and while their finishing schedule is similarly brutal to that of the Lakers, they actually have NBA talent at their disposal.

The Kings are 8-10 in their last 18 games, a nice sign that they'll finish the season off playing competitive basketball, this despite the fact that they'll be playing nine of their final 12 games against those previously mentioned top-ten teams out West.

Fun fact about the Kings: they're the only team in the NBA with three 20+ PPG scorers, and only Portland has two such guys (among those eligible for the scoring title). So, this team can score. Hopefully that lifts them to a few wins over the next month.


8. Pistons, 25-44 (HLO: 3.8% - 8th)

The Pistons are a late competitor to the tank-race, but boy are they coming on strong. They've lost five straight, and 12 of their last 15, falling completely out of the playoff race and into the top-eight of the lottery. Remember, this is important for Detroit, as they owe a top-eight protected pick to the Bobcats. So you'd expect the higher-ups (Joe Dumars) to try and impact the roster decisions down the stretch. While that kind of tanking is awful for the competitive part of the sport, could you really blame the Pistons when it's not just lottery position on the line, but their actual pick?

And it's going to be tough for the Pistons to keep losing at their current rate, as their closing schedule it pretty easy. They have two games remaining vs Cleveland (sans Kyrie) and one apiece against the Sixers, Bucks and Jazz. It's going to be hard for this team not to fall into four wins from here on out, and that could open the door for Cleveland to bump them from eighth.


9. Cavs, 27-44 (HLO: 2.4% - 9th)

Hugeeeeee win for the Cavs last night in New York, and one that could end up saving the Pistons' draft pick. Cleveland entered the game 0-4 without Irving (sidelined with a shoulder injury), and a loss would have dropped them into a tie with the Pistons for eighth. But Jarrett Jack dropped 31 points in MSG, simultaneously damaging both the Knicks playoff chances, and the Cavs lottery chances.

But if Cleveland loses both games to Detroit over the next few weeks, they're still in position to hop their Central division counterparts.

One thing is for sure, neither Cavs nor Pistons fans were expecting to be racing for a lottery spot this season. Disastrous seasons for both franchises, who have failed to make the playoffs since 2010 and 2009 respectively.


10. Nuggets, 32-38  (also own the 29-41 Knicks' pick) (HLO: 2.1% -10th)

The Knicks are 8-1 in their last nine, and the Nuggets are 7-4 in their last 11 (despite a brutal schedule). Therefore -- the Nuggets are basically locked into having two lottery picks ranked 10th or lower (the worse of which they are trading to Orlando), a sad turn of events for them considering how terrible the Knicks looked two weeks ago.


Follow Mike on twitter - Mike_Dyer13

For more of my articles, click here

Michael Dyer 3/24/2014 03:33:00 PM Edit
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