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#FlashBackFriday: Losing and the Draft

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On April 3rd, 1996, The Vancouver Grizzlies broke their 23 game losing streak with a 105-103 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. A loss would’ve tied Vancouver for the longest losing streak in NBA history to that point, and likely would have set an unbreakable record had they not won that night. Vancouver also lost 7 of their next 8 games, with the one win being by a single point.

The 1995-96 season was the first for the expansion franchise. Led by rookie Bryant “Big Country” Reeves and five year vet Greg Anthony, the turquoise, bronze, and black were looking for a leader… and were primed to find that leader in one of the best NBA Draft classes of all time. The Grizzlies had the worst record, and thus the best shot at the number one pick in an NBA Draft that would feature 10 future all stars, 23 players with 10+ year careers, three different MVPs, and what may settle at four or more hall of famers.

While the accolades were unknown in April of 1996, the names were not. Allen Iverson left Georgetown the all time leader in points per game, Steve Nash was a back to back West Coast Conference player of the year at Santa Clara (the only college that offered Canada’s finest a scholarship), Marcus Camby won the Wooden and Naismith College Player of the Year awards while at UMass after he set numerous records for blocks,  Stephon Marbury had gone from New York City legend and McDonald’s all American to freshman phenom and ACC Freshman of the Year at Georgia Tech, Ray Allen was the USA Basketball Male athlete of the year… Oh, and the most “unknown kid?” Kobe Bean Bryant, son of Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, a 4 year starter from Lower Merion High School outside of Philadelphia… While hindsight may make it obvious, Bryant was as decorated a high school player as there ever was. Bryant entered the draft out of high school as the all time scoring leader in Pennsylvania High School Basketball history (passing Wilt Chamberlain to get there), a two time Pennsylvania player of the year, and Gatorade’s National player of the year. Bryant was just the second high school player to make the leap from high school to the NBA in 20 years, and gained a lot of notoriety in doing so. But, Bryant was young. Since he was just 17, he legally needed to have his parent or guardian signature on his first NBA contract.

The NBA knew a young crop of talent was coming, and the Grizzlies losses made it as if they were poised to make sure they were included. Even after breaking their losing streak, Vancouver ended the season at 15 – 67. Philadelphia ended the season at 18-64, Toronto (also an expansion franchise in the 1995-96 season) ended it at 21-61. While they had the best odds at the number one pick, Vancouver fell behind Philadelphia and Toronto in the ping pong ball lottery. What’s most odd, however, is that they were the only team that changed in order. 4-13 of the lottery went in the exact reverse order of their records, Philadelphia had the number one pick with the second worst record, and Toronto had the number two pick with the third best record.

The 1996 NBA Draft was loaded with talent, and Vancouver was sure to find their talented leader at pick number three. The only issue was, who?

Allen Iverson was a consensus pick at number one… unless you were on the other side of the polarizing guard. The only issues for Iverson were his height (he is still the shortest player drafted number one overall) and a run in with the law as a senior in high school, but that led to a 50/50 split amongst a lot of basketball followers. Some wanted to see him drafted number one, others thought their teams shouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole. Philly, clearly, chose the former.

Marcus Camby was a lock as the next pick. As a defensive stopper, Camby had led UMass to a number one seed in the NCAA tournament twice, and blocked 43 shots in 11 tournament games. If you’re drafting, especially in 1996 basketball, 6’11” 240 lbs. translates. Further, in a draft filled with youth, Camby had played three terrific years of college basketball under Coach Calipari. There was little left to question for the Camby Man.  

But Vancouver came up next and went with one of the names that evades us from that draft class… Outside of a beautiful throwback both in it’s nostalgia for the 90s and the eleven character, hyphenated last name, Shareef Abdur-Rahim is left out of a lot of modern hoops conversations. Obviously, Reef was in the same draft class as Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and Steve Nash… and the MVPs dominate the conversation nearly 25 years removed. Jermaine O’Neal, Antoine Walker, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, and Derek Fisher are in a different tier looking back at the ’96 draft. Each had crucial roles on their respective teams for a long run in the NBA. Further, they have iconic “moments.” Jermaine O’Neal was in the Malice in the Palace, Starbury was a New Yorker and a Knick, Dray Allen hit the shot in Game 6, Derek Fisher hit the 0.4 shot, etc. Peja Stojakovic, Kerry Kittles, Malik Rose, and Eric Dampier occupy their own tier of memorable pros from the turn of the century found in this class as each was a long time NBA starter. Each played on good teams for a long time, and each was a better than average role player for a good or great team

But ‘Reef Abdur-Rahim is a “hoop fans hooper.” His game and memory, however, isn’t as strong as others from the ’96 draft.

Abdur-Rahim finally made an All Star game in 2002, his first season after leaving Vancouver. For the Grizzlies, Abdur-Rahim averaged 20.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3 assists over five seasons…

The Grizzlies won 14, 19, 8, 22, and 23 games before they too left Vancouver for Memphis. They had two seasons of the lowest attendance in the NBA, couldn’t win many games, and it was looking more and more like they’d drafted the wrong guy. Kobe Bryant was winning a second title in LA… in a battle against Allen Iverson. Starbury, Ray Allen, and Antoine Walker, the three picks immediately after Abdur-Rahim, had each already made an All Star game. It’d be easy to say Vancouver made the wrong move.. but is it really that simple?

‘Reef Abdur-Rahim was, on paper, the right pick in every way anyone taken after him was. Two time Georgia High School Mr. Basketball, Abdur-Rahim averaged 21 and 8 his freshman year at Cal while maintaining a 3.5 GPA. He was the Pac-10 freshman of the year, and broke several single season freshman scoring records. He was young, sure, but so was everyone going into the draft that year.

A lot of people tie the youth movement in the NBA to the ‘96 draft. Many of the top eventual pros were far from seniors in college, and some of the more notable names were closer to their Senior Prom than legal drinking age. But the case of Abdur-Rahim may show us something else about young talent.

Clearly, where a guy ends up is as valuable as when he ends up there. Abdur-Rahim, a young pro, landed in a young franchise. He was the centerpiece of an NBA Franchise at 19, but the franchise was a literal toddler. He became a tradepiece, and got shipped off for Lorenzen Wright and (the draft pick that landed) Pau Gasol. Atlanta was in a re-build, and figured trading for a star may work better than drafting one. He later got traded to Portland in the dismantling of the “Jail Blazer” Trail Blazers, which sent Rasheed Wallace to Atlanta… and put Abdur-Rahim in another rebuilding situation. Abdur-Rahim was always one of his team’s best players, but rarely was he in a position where the team was ready for success. His lone playoff series came in 2006, ten years after being drafted, when he was a sixth man for a Sacramento Kings team that lost to San Antonio in the first round. Two years later, he retired after two knee surgeries in six months.

When we see teams in the NBA tanking for talent, they always hope the draft they are in has as much talent as the ’96 draft. ’96 felt like a year that nearly everyone drafted had a real career, and even had the notable Ben Wallace go undrafted. 10 future All Stars in a draft is special, that’s 1/6 of the players drafted that night. 23 players with 10+ years in the NBA is special, that’s more than 1/3 of the players drafted that night.

But if you’re Vancouver, it’s more than just losing to get the top pick, and it’s more than getting a great pick in a great draft. As a franchise, surrounding the player with opportunities to develop and succeed is clearly just as important.

It’s to the shock of few that Shareef Abdur-Rahim is now the President of the NBA’s G League, where the NBA has its young players develop. Abdur-Rahim is adamant about making a full, 30 team G League, where guys can develop talent while still being tied to an NBA team. The goal is for the league to become a true feeder team, much like the AAA baseball model. And thus, a place for young guys to develop. Nearly 25 years later, the youth and potential movement still drives the NBA draft. Obviously, you want a Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic… But if you can draft and develop a Danny Green, a Quinn Cook, Fred Van Vleet, or a She Curry and develop them, your team will be better prepared for when an Abdur-Rahim shows up.

So as we look back at today in NBA history, we need to understand a rebuild and tank is more than just losing games. Sure, historically long losing streaks (or narrowly avoiding them) can help net a top pick. Sure, a single draft can fill out an all star roster. But it’s going to take more than that one player to spin a franchise. Even in the quickest turnarounds, with the best young stars, need more to them. Abdur-Rahim was not the wrong pick. Even in hindsight, where he ended up (and where he continued to end up) played a bigger part in anything in shaping our collective memory of him as a basketball player nearly 25 years later.

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Is The Brooklyn Nets’ Offense The New High Powered defense? by Chris Allen

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They say offense wins games and defense wins championships, but there’s a new Brooklyn Nets roster that might change this ancient philosophy in sports. The Nets are sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference.

I’ve been watching the revitalized Nets with James Harden’s addition in one of the biggest blockbuster trades this season. With the addition of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and now Harden, the Brooklyn Nets arguably have three of the top 7 most unguardable players in the league. This causes a nightmare for defenses. After all, you can’t double-team anybody because you’re going to leave another prolific scorer open. Blake Griffin’s addition to the roster will make it challenging for defenses to have a scheme other than one on one. 

With their lineup’s construction, no one would be surprised if they got a bucket on every offensive possession. It must be demoralizing from a defensive standpoint to try to do your best to contest a layup from Irving as he can put your best defender on skates. Or try and put an undersized defender on 7’0 Durant because your bigs don’t have the quickness and agility to stay with him. Last but not least, you have to try not to foul Harden, who recently hacked the officiating rule perfecting his step-back three. 

With the focus on those three, how are the rest of your team not subject to being a poster prop for the year’s dunk with DeAndre Jordan and Griffin. 

From a sport psychology standpoint, you can’t go an entire fourth quarter in a close competitive game when every possession they do some lack of a better term “2K Hall of Fame Shit” without losing your competitive edge. Essentially their offense is so good that it puts pressure on the opposition to defend them on the defensive side and attempt to keep up with them on the offensive side, adding more stress to each player on the opposite team to make a play to stay in the game. This allows the Nets to be essentially mediocre on defense, and if they get a stop or create turnovers, you not only lost possession, but you put the ball back into their hands which is what you don’t want to do late in the 4th quarter. 

At this point, the only thing that can stop the Nets is a COVID protocol or injury. If the Nets stay healthy and work together as a team, it’ll be a tough challenge for anybody in the West, let alone in the East, to take down such an offense of powerhouse. With Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni on the sidelines just inflating the offense, even more, this team is dangerous. 

Irving can drop 40 on any night; Harden can get as many four-point plays as he wants, and Durant receives the green light whenever he touches the ball. Even if they miss their shots, they still have pretty solid rebounders in Nicolas Claxton, Jordan, and Griffin to reset the offense. 

Let’s not forget that they still have one of the best three-point shooters in the league, Joe Harris, waiting on defenders to make a mistake the man almost can’t miss. If the Nets make it to the NBA finals, they could threaten the Los Angeles Lakers’ chances of repeating. Then again, I guess there’s only one way to determine if the offense can win you a championship. 

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Five Players In The NBA That Can Finish Their Careers With Greater On-Court Legacies Than LeBron James by @ReelTPJ

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Five players in the league can finish their careers with more extraordinary court legacies than LeBron James. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, Zion Williamson, Luka Dončić, Ja Morant, and LaMelo Ball. Here’s why:

GOAT for GOAT LeBron can challenge any GOAT from Bill Russell, a pioneer amongst pioneers and leaders amongst leaders. To a GOAT such as Wilt Chamberlain, who stacked the numbers so high, not even James Harden iso’s in a Mike D’Antoni system could catch. To a GOAT such as Michael Jordan, the GOAT OF MY GOATS GOATS. It’s Mike. I’m from Chicago.

Off-the-court legacy, LeBron is tied with Jordan. Jordan is 50+ doing all this. LeBron is still in his 30s. LeBron’s done so much that I think it would be unfair to compare legacies. Michael Jordan is the precursor. So it’s hard to say LeBron can ever be better than him to those that love Mike. LeBron loves Mike.— That futuristic artificial intelligence Virtual Reality game of LeBron vs. MJ will be WILD in 2030.

LeBron’s current challengers, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, can’t catch him. Period. They’re old. They teamed up to beat bro. PLUS health. — Steph is my guy. He’s the only unanimous MVP and probably will be until Zion wins his first ring in 2025.

After Steph, THERE IS nobody good enough heading into their prime to challenge Bron’s legacy ON THE COURT. This era, 2015-2035, will also be the age of technology and the “stat” era. 50 years from now, Bron will be the first of a new generation of GOATS. He’ll be top 5 in every statistical category. Before the True Shooting percentage nerds took over the game, LeBron accumulated a large part of those numbers before the stat era began.

Also, this is the dawn of a new century. Basketball has been around for 130 years at this point. Really in its most proper form since 1970.
So let’s get to why these guys can challenge LeBron’s legacy.

GIANNIS

Giannis is a 2X MVP and a DPOY through 8 seasons in the NBA. His numbers are still on par with last year’s. He continues to shine. BIGGEST QUESTION IS…… CAN HE WIN? I’m not sure. I hope he can. I think Giannis can win 5-7 rings if paired with the right guard. Imagine Ja and GIANNIS! OMG OMG OMG! One can dream, right? Still, Giannis has GOAT potential. He has everything you want in a player; he’s young, built like a horse (I’ve talked to him in person postgame), and he’s building his game out.
He’s a better player than LeBron was at this age. His offensive bag isn’t as big as LeBron, but LeBron isn’t 6’11 and built like Giannis.

ZION WILLIAMSON

ATHLETIC FREAK OF NATURE. LOOK AT THESE STATS OVER THE LAST 9 GAMES!

THIS MAN IS 20 YEARS OLD. This man’s numbers vs. LeBron’s are INSANE! Look at this:

These numbers are insane. Yes, this is an offensive generation, but who’s bodying Zion? Who’s FIGHTING ZION? In what era? WHO?

He made Tristan Thompson look like a child. SMH. And Thompson is a BIG dude who I’ve very rarely seen get abused like that. His play is Shaq-like. Plus, he’s averaging 26 points on 16 shots per game—less than Anthony Edwards. Edwards is averaging 16.8, and Zion’s played 21 games MORE than Anthony. TWENTY-ONE GAMES MORE!

LUKA Dončić

He’s MY SON. LUKKKKKKKKKAAAAAAAAAA! If he can win 3-4 rings, I think he can challenge LeBron’s legacy. He’ll have so many stats behind him. Currently, I think he has to develop his defensive game and learn to shoot and finish games better.

JA MORANT

Ja is the biggest X-Factor in the NBA. BUT he won’t be if he stays with the Memphis Grizzlies. Request a trade and LEAVE JA. LEAVE! No one wants to play for the Grizzlies.

LAMELO BALL

I told all of you, LeBron, and Kobe all in one. He’s only 19 years old! I think he has considerable potential and age for age. It’s a conversation, statistically!

LOOK:

So that’s the list! All legit arguments.

MY BAD: And I know I use to say Ben Simmons could challenge LeBron; he doesn’t have an offensive skillset when it comes to scoring. You have to do everything Bron does plus score to challenge him.

ALL STATS FROM BASKETBALL REFERENCE.

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The Bulls Got Better by Pavy

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Suppose you follow me on Twitter; the war against the Chicago Bulls Twitter is well documented. Yes, I’m from Chicago, but I enjoy being right more than supporting my hometown teams. My main riff started in the Jim Boylen era when Bulls fans told me he was a God-awful coach. My whole point was that even though he wasn’t the best coach, he wasn’t as bad as people think. The talent on the roster just wasn’t up to where it should’ve been, and it didn’t matter who was coaching. That team wasn’t that good.

This season there has been a slight improvement. Primarily because of the play of Zach LaVine. He’s averaging 28.1 points this season, but what is most impressive is his percentages. He’s shooting 52% from the field while shooting 43% from a distance. Hitting the shots that he shoots, which usually have a substantial degree of difficulty, is INSANE efficiency. But then the trade deadline happened, and the Bulls did something that we rarely as an organization see them do. MAKE TRADES.

When I woke up Thursday morning, the group chat was already in shambles. It was at least 20 messages, and I was confused. Then I logged on Twitter to find out Nikola Vučević and Daniel Theis were the Bulls’ newest members. Both players make this team much better than when I laid my head down for some sleep. For one, they have two legitimate All-Stars. Something the Bulls haven’t had since I was 21. For context, I’ll be 30 in less than two months. Also, it shows the team, and most importantly, the fan base, they’re dedicated to winning. No, this move probably won’t put them in the Finals. They still might be a first-round exit, but at least it’s something to be excited about.

It’s been a long road for Bulls fans throughout the Gar Forman and John Paxson era. I honestly believe Derrick Rose getting hurt was the worst thing that could’ve happened, not precisely the roster decision they made. But regardless, it looks like the new regime has a vision, and they aren’t scared to take shots. The Bulls historically don’t trade that often. Especially not mid-season. The most significant mid-season acquisitions I can remember is probably Jalen Rose. All in all, I’m excited about Bulls fans and the city of Chicago to watch actual competitive basketball again.

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