Real Deal Basketball Report: All-Star 2017 Recap

After a pretty quiet December, many teams in this league experienced significant changes in fortune during the first month and a half of 2017. If 2016 was a fairly dull year for the league as a whole, it’s looking like 2017 is shaping up to be quite an interesting one. Let’s take a closer look.



The LA Clippers have had a rough go of it from the inception of the league. Armed with two superstars in Chris Paul (a top three point guard of all time in this humble reporter’s opinion) and Blake Griffin (a mega-talented but oft-injured unicorn who finished third in MVP voting a few years ago), the Clips were somehow never able to build a good team around them. For a while, their third best player was Kyle Korver. Much like the real Clippers, LA never put it all together to achieve any real success.

At nearly 30 games under .500 in a top-heavy Pacific Division with no playoff appearances in three years and with precisely two good players and no promising ones (OK fine, maybe Josh Richardson), blowing this team up and starting from scratch was probably the correct move. And so Blake and CP3 were gone. Let’s dive deep on these trades.

LAC receives: Dario Saric, Deyonta Davis and the Pacers’ 1st round pick
IND receives: Blake Griffin

I hated this trade at first and can guarantee you that the Clippers had at least one better offer than this. But the more I think about it, the less atrocious it seems. Look, a 50-point player is extremely rare and make no mistake: the return here should have been greater. But you can understand why the Clippers liked what they got.

Saric is putting together a really nice rookie season and will only get better once Ilyasova clears out. He looks like an important piece for the future of the Sixers and will have lots of opportunity to do some good things in a lineup featuring Embiid, Simmons and whatever point guard Philly drafts this summer. He’s a guy I can see averaging something like 15-17 points, 6-8 rebounds and 4-5 assists in his prime.

Deyonta Davis was probably a lottery-level talent in this rookie class (granted, it’s looking like the weakest draft in at least a decade) but fell to the second round because he’s so unpolished. He’s definitely a prospect, but he’s noted more for his defense than anything, which doesn’t often translate into fantasy relevance. And the Grizzlies aren’t exactly known for throwing young players into the mix right away – or even within the first like five years. He’s buried behind ZBo, JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin, though Green is a free agent this summer and Memphis won’t be able to afford a new contract for him, so there’s that.

The Indy pick will be like #25 at best because the Pacers got so much better because of this trade. Picks are always nice, but the talent in this draft falls off monumentally after like the 15th pick, and Indy ain’t finishing in the lottery.

So basically this trade amounts to Griffin for Saric and two mumbled prayers. I’m shocked that this trade happened without the Philly pick. Or without any of the Pacers’ million other young prospects with actual promise. No Exum? No Lyles? No Garry Harris? Just Deyonta Davis?

I’ll refrain for now from talking any more about how this affects the Clippers and instead talk about how this affects Indiana and the East, because that’s more interesting.

The Pacers instantly just became the second-best team in the East. Atlanta has to be nervous. And the rest of the contenders in the East are now focusing on the #3 seed, because that’s as high as any of them will get. The Pacers have just acquired their best player mid-season, which is alarming to say the least for all competitors. This team now has a four-headed monster of Griffin, George, Gobert and Westbrook (more on that later) that rivals the top-heavy Spurs and Pelicans, but the Pacers also enjoy decent depth about 10 players deep. Their strategy must now be to trade Dunn for a player who can help now and Exum for whatever they can get.

This spells trouble for Chicago, who should have been the favorites to win the Central. That roster, even with Kevin Durant, just has too many holes to keep pace (pun intended) with Indiana. And somehow they’re even behind the Bucks now. Time to re-jigger.

Atlanta has just been so good so far that their spot atop the East probably remains safe. But can they really beat Indy in the Eastern finals? It’ll be a hell of a matchup. Both teams need to stay healthy.

And now the other trade:

LAC receives: Isaiah Whitehead, Wade Baldwin IV and the Bucks’ 1st round pick
SAC receives: Chris Paul

As a commissioner in this league I do feel obligated to censor myself here. Enough has been said about this trade. The only things left to say are 1. Congrats, Kings and 2. We’ll all be keeping a close eye on how many All-Star games Whitehead plays in.



For forever, it seemed like the Spurs would lock down the Southwest Division with New Orleans just behind. But the Pelicans have been getting hotter and hotter thanks in large part to Joel Embiid, the Living Meme, and the Spurs have fallen off just a little bit and actually look just a little bit thin, especially with recent injuries.

Over the past month, New Orleans has five players averaging 40 points or more per game. The trio of Davis, Embiid (when healthy) and Bledsoe alone give you almost 170 points a night. And the team just got even better by acquiring Nerlens Noel and Jamal Murray for a pick. Sure, let’s just give this team every single young and talented player in the NBA. AND Ben Simmons hasn’t even played yet – and for all we know he could become the best player on this team. AND they’re $30 million under the cap. AND they have a lottery pick this year, and two more next year. Jesus. The more I look at this roster the more I just want to quit because this team will be one of the two or three best teams in the league for at least the next 10 years. The one worry right now, of course, is centered on the health of Embiid’s knee. How much longer will he be out?

So what happened to the Spurs? Well, it’s really not that anything happened to them, per se – it’s more that good things happened to the teams around them. The Spurs have been very quiet in the trade market this year, and why wouldn’t you be when you have Kawhi, Drummond and Towns? But the problem for the Spurs is depth. Wilson Chandler isn’t good enough to be your fourth-best player if you want to win a championship. Teams like the Pelicans, Trail Blazers and Warriors have added more pieces to build up some depth while the Spurs have remained stagnant. San Antonio has a strong top eight, but if one or two of their stars isn’t playing more than one game in a given period, this team is beatable. With Lin out there is no bench to speak of here. They’re still in prime position in the West to advance to the conference finals, but a real danger exists that New Orleans will leave them in the dust, or that another playoff team with a big three like Portland or Utah could surprise them early.



There will be no Finals loss hangover for the Pacers, it appears, as the team has reloaded with Griffin and Russell Westbrook, who is currently putting together one of the best statistical seasons of the past 25 years. Let’s examine this trade because I’ve already gushed enough about this Indy team. (OK, one more: I’ve never seen a team add two absolute ringers like this before, ever.)

IND receives: Westbrook, Brandon Knight and (somehow also?!) Phoenix’s 2018 1st round pick
PHX receives: Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker and Kris Dunn

I think the one thing we’ve learned (or really I guess we still haven’t) is that you should never, ever trade a superstar. There’s a reason it doesn’t happen in the real NBA. The return is almost never anything close to equal value and is almost always done because the player says he wants to leave town – but our players don’t get a choice in free agency. We saw what happened when OKC traded Durant and Westbrook. We saw the Durant trade earlier this year. We saw the Clippers trades. And now this.

I will say that this trade is the closest to equal value for a superstar that we’ve seen so far, but Indiana still wins this by a mile. Westbrook scores over 70 PPG. End of story. If I’m trading Westbrook, it means I’m rebuilding, and there’s no way I’m including pot sweeteners like Knight and my own pick next year, which, for Phoenix, looks like it could be in the lottery. Still, the return pieces are actually worthwhile. Parker played at an All-Star level this season, but one wonders how he’ll bounce back from a second torn ACL in three seasons. The reports are that he’s looking at a 12-month rehab period, so not only is he done for the rest of this season, but also for the majority of next season, as well. LaVine is another ACL tear victim, and was putting together a great campaign in his own right. He’s another question mark in terms of how he’ll play post-surgery: his game is so dependent on his explosiveness and athleticism, and some guys are never the same after a serious knee injury. For Dunn, I’ll just say this: the jury is basically still out on him, but in my opinion he’s looked like basically the worst player in the NBA this season and his lack of polish for a soon-to-be 23-year-old who spent three years in college hoops is kind of shocking.



It’s pretty much all but settled at this point which teams are in. Let’s take a look at the current order:


  1. New Orleans
  2. San Antonio
  3. Golden State
  4. Utah
  5. Portland
  6. Sacramento
  7. Houston
  8. Phoenix


  1. Atlanta
  2. Indiana
  3. Toronto
  4. Milwaukee
  5. Charlotte
  6. Chicago
  7. Miami
  8. Cleveland

I wrote “In the hunt” for both conferences but then there were no teams to put there. These are your 16 playoff teams, folks. Lock it up and prepare accordingly. See the rest of you (or whoever owns your picks) in the lottery.



All-Star Weekend is almost here! Let’s get hype and pick the Real Deal All-Star team for the 2016-17 season. (To decide these lists I just looked at who’s scored the most points. Nice and easy.)



G: Russell Westbrook, IND
G: John Wall, WAS
F: Kevin Durant, CHI
F: Giannis Antetokuonmpo, MIL
F: LeBron James, CLE


Hassan Whiteside, CHI; Kyle Lowry, TOR; Rudy Gobert, IND; Kemba Walker, CHA; Carmelo Anthony, CLE; Draymond Green, CLE; Paul Millsap, ATL

A few interesting notes here: 1. Cleveland, a bottom seed in the playoffs, has three All-Stars. Atlanta, comfortably the best team in the league, barely has one. See, people, depth is important! There is also only one All-Star from a non-playoff team (Wall) and only two teams besides Cleveland have more than one All-Star (Chicago and Indiana).



G: James Harden, HOU
G: Stephen Curry, GS
F: DeMarcus Cousins, SAC
F: Anthony Davis, NO
F: Karl-Anthony Towns, SA


Andre Drummond, SA; Isaiah Thomas, PHO; Eric Bledsoe, NO; Jimmy Butler, POR; DeAndre Jordan, POR; Marc Gasol, MEM; Kawhi Leonard, SA

Seven of the 12 All-Stars belong to just three teams: New Orleans, San Antonio and Portland. Utah is the only playoff team without an All-Star. And Marc Gasol is the only All-Star not on a playoff team.

Real Deal Basketball Report: December 2016 Recap

December was a fairly quiet month. A few notable trades, a few minor changes in the standings, but no major excitement. Let’s take a look at the biggest stories from this month.


Not that it was entirely their choice given how thin their roster was and how poorly they started, but the Magic are officially out of it this season after trading Vucevic and Gasol, two cornerstones of the team that was the best in the East in the league’s inaugural season two years ago. Let’s break down the two biggest trade of the month, both centered around the Orlando rebuild.

ORL receives: Derrick Favors and Utah’s 2018 1st round pick
UTAH receives: Nikola Vucevic and Orlando’s 2018 2nd round pick

This deal was essentially Vuc for Favors and a 1st round pick, making Orlando the clear long-term winner in this trade.

Vucevic’s role in the disastrously confusing Magic rotation is becoming more and more mysterious by the day, and he may not even end the season on the Magic roster (although that might be a good thing). He’s still a very productive player in this league because he averages a double-double (barely), but it’s worth noting that he’s scoring 5 or 6 fewer points per game than each of the last two seasons and is playing under 30 minutes a night for the first time since his rookie year. Still, again, he averages over 40 PPG so there can’t really be many complaints about this acquisition.

None of this, of course, is to say that Favors is any better. In fact, he’s been horrific this season and has missed a ton of games, and I’m sure Utah is glad to wash his hands of this player and not have to worry about wondering if he can ever put together a full good season. His minutes have been cut by about a third this year and there are questions if he can play PF next to Rudy Gobert, who, along with Gordon Hayward, is Utah’s most important player. This has forced him to occupy a backup role behind Gobert while Boris Diaw and the younger Trey Lyles, who fits the profile of a modern 4 much better than Favors does with his floor spacing ability. Still, Favors is just 25 and is on a very friendly contract. He’s one of the most inconsistent players in the NBA, but when he’s on, he’s on.

ORL receives: Terrence Ross, Demetrius Jackson, New York’s 2017 1st round pick
POR receives: Pau Gasol

This is a trade that makes sense for both sides, although Portland will miss Ross as a depth option. In Gasol, the Blazers get an aging and expensive star whose production is at its lowest ever.

However, they also get a significant talent upgrade. Gasol still gets double-doubles regularly and is unquestionably an upgrade in the starting eight over Ross. This was a good trade for the surging Blazers in their race for a top playoff seed, but one has to wonder if there were better options out there.

Orlando, on the other hand, gets a nice haul for a player they might have considered amnestying in the offseason. Ross remains an overall disappointment, but this year Dwayne Casey has found a very nice role for him. He’s playing fewer minutes but scoring more, and he’s finally shooting over 40% from three. Demetrius Jackson probably doesn’t amount to much more than a throw-in, but there was a point before the draft when many scouts projected he’d go in the lottery. He has talent but he’s in a terrible roster situation in Boston. Someone to keep an eye on and a nice lotto ticket for the Magic. The main piece here is the Knicks’ pick, which is almost guaranteed to be in the lottery, and this is possibly the most stacked draft class since 2003.

Overall, Orlando probably wins both trades. In the long run, Vuc for Favors might end up being a total wash, so Orlando wins because they get a pick out of it. Gasol only has a few years left at best and all three pieces the Magic got back for him have interesting potential. However, both Portland and Utah get significantly better this season because of these trades, and now they’re tied for first place in the Northwest with neither showing signs of slowing down. The drama!



We’re only two months in, but most of the playoff spots look to be locked down.

Especially in the West. There are exactly eight teams – San Antonio, New Orleans, Golden State, Portland, Utah, Houston, Phoenix and Sacramento – with winning records, and the rest are 10 games under .500 or worse.

So it’s basically a race for seeding at this point, with the Spurs remaining the favorites to end up on top – although they’ve been slipping a bit lately and the Pelicans are just one game behind. Man, what a race: Towns, Kawhi and Drummond vs. Davis, Kyrie and Embiid with Aldridge and Bledsoe playing major supporting roles for New Orleans. Whatever the order, they will likely end up 1 and 2.

Odds are Golden State will win the division and lock up the #3 spot, with Portland and Utah battling it out for the Northwest and ending up at 4 and 5.

That leaves the Kings, Suns and Rockets to duke it out for the last three spots. Sacramento in particular seems like they’re one or two good players away, now that Dirk is back, from challenging Golden State and surpassing the rest, including the Northwest duo.

In the East, things are a bit trickier (but not by much). There are nine teams with winning records, and all have decent arguments to make the postseason.

Let’s start with the locks. Toronto is in by default. Indiana, Chicago and Milwaukee (leading the division out of nowhere) are all too talented to miss, as are Atlanta and Charlotte.

That leaves two spots for Miami, Cleveland and Washington. All three of these teams are tough to project; all three could be a lot better with some TLC.

Cleveland has three amazing players in LeBron, Melo and Draymond – but, as I’ve been harping on them for for a year now, there is literally no other interesting player on the roster besides Morris.

Washington is in a similar situation, but only John Wall is playing at an elite level right now with Randle producing fairly nicely, as well. Things are extremely bad when you’re in the playoff hunt and Andre Roberson is your third best player.

Miami’s squad is by far the deepest, but one has to wonder how much success you can really achieve when Goran Dragic is your clear best player.

If I had to pick right now, I’d say Washington is the odd man out.

The rest of the inter-conference and inter-division races are way too close to call, especially Atlanta vs. Charlotte and the three-headed monster in the Central.



I think I did a new year’s resolution for each team last year or the year before, so why not make it an annual thing? Except a lot of teams are in a position where they don’t really need to actively change anything, so this year we’re getting holiday wish lists instead.

ATLANTA: Redick and Jackson have to get better for the Hawks to remain a title contender. They’re each struggling for very different reasons.
BOSTON: Nurkic gets traded away from the Nuggets and becomes a 10-10 starter.
BROOKLYN: The three dud top-10 picks from last year – Johnson, Hezonja and Cauley-Stein – get their damn acts together and earn some playing time.
CHARLOTTE: Atlanta gets bit by the injury bug.
CHICAGO: Aaron Gordon stops playing small forward 🙁
CLEVELAND: LeBron starts playing 48 minutes a game.
DENVER: A five-man bench mysteriously appears
GOLDEN STATE: Barea gets healthy and returns to his regular mischief.
HOUSTON: Get transferred to the Atlantic.
INDIANA: Philly tanks.
LA CLIPPERS: Blake Griffin is unaffected by the surgery.
LA LAKERS: Blake Griffin is never the same after the surgery.
MEMPHIS: Flip Frazier, Gordon and Carroll for better long-term assets.
MIAMI: Dragic doesn’t get traded.
MILWAUKEE: Ibaka’s latest surge is not a fluke and he becomes an elite two-way player again.
MINNESOTA: Get massive hauls for Teague and Love.
NEW ORLEANS: The entire team makes it through the season with no injuries.
NEW YORK: Flip prospects and picks for win-now players and make a surprise playoff push.
OKLAHOMA CITY: Find out which prospects are worth keeping. Trade the rest and get into the 2017 draft in any capacity.
ORLANDO: Trade Nene, Tucker, etc. for literally anything.
PHILADELPHIA: Mudiay gets his act together.
PHOENIX: Knight gets traded, Westbrook averages a quintuple-double.
PORTLAND: The one or two more necessary trades are made and a title contender is confirmed.
SACRAMENTO: Dirk and Burks return to form.
SAN ANTONIO: Lin gets healthy for good and Chandler doesn’t get traded.
TORONTO: A move is made that simultaneously cuts salary and enables Beasley and Casspi to sit.
UTAH: Cody Zeller starts rebounding.
WASHINGTON: Everyone besides Wall and Randle move on and new youth comes in.

Real Deal Basketball Report: November 2016 Recap

One month in and this season has already been a doozy. We’ve had blockbuster trades, surprise teams and it’s actually looking like the playoff races in both conferences are going to be tight right down until the end.



There are three players that stand head and shoulders above the rest in Real Deal this season: Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Anthony Davis.

Westbrook is averaging an absolutely ridiculous 75.5 PPG. Hey, getting a triple-double every night will do that for you in this league. Westbrook’s silly usage rate of over 38% is the highest ever – EVER! – since the 2005-06 Kobe Bryant season. OKC has literally no other options offensively so I suppose it makes sense. Funnily enough, Russ’ blatant stat-padding is hurting his real-life team while helping out the Real Deal Suns in a major way. Aside from Westbrook, IT and Taj Gibson (yeah, that guy still), the Suns have little else to speak of in terms of production this year. The loss of a surprisingly resurgent Nick Young for the next few weeks will surely have Phoenix thinking of making a move to stay afloat in the Pacific, which is a bloodbath of a three-team race (sorry, LA teams). The Suns have scored the fifth-most points so far this season, but they lag behind in the overall standings, where they’re in 11th place (fifth in the West) and trail the Warriors by a couple of games.

Anthony Davis has been one of the many reasons that the Pelicans have surged from fringe playoff team to championship contender, averaging a cool 71 PPG. If he keeps up his averages – 32 PPG and 11 RPG – he’ll be the first NBA player to have a 30-point, 10-rebound season since Karl Malone in 1989-90. That’s pretty damn cool. The Pelicans – in a neck-and-neck race for the Southwest crown with San Antonio’s three-headed monster Kawhi, Drummond and Towns, are all healthy for the first time since the inception of the league and are accordingly firing on all cylinders. Davis is leading a behemoth of a team also comprised of Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe and the Resplendent African Meme known as Joel Embiid, all averaging over 40 PPG. A second tier led by Aldridge and MKG are helping New Orleans to the third-highest point total thus far.

Harden, however, might not be enough to save the sinking ship that is the Rockets, despite averaging just under 70 PPG all on his own. It’s been a slow descent into mediocrity for Houston, who had the best record in the league two seasons ago, were the fifth seed in the West last year and are now fighting to get into the postseason this year. As things stand, the Rockets sit at 16th place – bang average – in the league and 8th in the West. Is it possible that Harden’s 28 PPG, 12 APG and 7 RPG won’t be enough for the playoffs? Aside from Harrison Barnes, the least efficient 20 PPG scorer in NBA history (needs citation), the rest of the team has been a disappointment.



There are some teams that truly stink in this league, even if it was expected.

I’ll start with my own team. It stinks. Every single one of my sophomore players (Richaun Holmes excluded) have fallen on their faces and might never be good. None of my rookies are being given a shot, either. And the only players on my team who don’t fall into either category are Steven Adams, Noah Vonleh, Tyler Zeller and two Euro stash guys. Oy. This rebuild is going to take longer than I thought.

Such is the same in OKC, where the Thunder are still in for a hell of a fight to dig this team out of the trenches sometime this decade. There’s not much else to say, unfortunately: OKC is in dead last in every possible measurement and haven’t even scored half as many points this season as the 29th-place Nets. No one on this roster plays more than 14 minutes per game, and, to add insult to injury (or is that the other way around?), Jerryd Bayless got banged up just three games in.

Dallas has only won three games all year, but they have had to deal with the league’s fifth-toughest schedule. The Mavs became a lot younger this offseason than I think most people realized, and that’s probably part of why they’re struggling. Pair that with disappointing output from Mirotic, Crowder, Jokic and Noel’s injury, take away the draft pick and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

What the hell happened to Orlando? This team won the East easily in the inaugural season of Real Deal and now they’re 3-19. In some ways, this was sort of The Roster That Time Forgot. And by that I mean that their only good players at the end of last season were Vucevic and Pau Gasol, and no pieces of consequence were added. Greg Monroe was the #1 overall pick in the Real Deal expansion draft and now he has evaporated into thin air. Tyreke is still hurt (surprise surprise). Bender and Zubac are too young. And the rest of the team is made up of the ghosts of Jason Terry, Nene and a bunch of nobodies. It’s a good thing the Magic kept their pick this year as visions of Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson and Harry Giles dance in their dreams like sad sugarplum fairies.



It took a while, but the Blazers are finally as good as they should have been in the first place. They lead the division fairly comfortably and sit at third in the West, a big jump from the first two seasons of Real Deal. The Porzingis-for-DeAndre trade still doesn’t make a ton of sense long-term, but it’s pretty much a wash at this point, especially with how good the rest of the team has been. Dame continues to be a bona fide superstar (good thing defense doesn’t count), and Jimmy Butler is carefully building his case as an MVP candidate. We’re still waiting on certain guys (Rodney Hood) to make that next step, and are close to giving up on several more (Terrence Ross, Meyers Leonard, Sauce Castillo). Portland is off to a rip-roaring start, but they might notice some teams catching up quickly if they don’t fill out the rest of this roster with players getting at least 30 PPG. Roy Hibbert and his 16 PPG aren’t good enough to start for a team that wants to compete for a title.



In the biggest blockbuster since year one of Real Deal, Kevin Durant was shipped off to the Windy City to help the Bulls rise to the top of the Central, Real Deal’s most competitive division this year, and ultimately knock off Atlanta and Charlotte for top spot in the conference.

To fully appreciate the significance of this trade, we need to rewind two years and change back in time, when KD and Westbrook both left OKC, changing the climate of the Western Conference for the next five years or more. Westbrook went to a Phoenix team that was utterly mediocre in year one, but has become a major threat in the West. The same has not been true in LA, where KD’s team has struggled.

In dynasty leagues, it’s almost never a good idea to trade sure-thing, proven superstars. We all know what happened to OKC after trading away the reigning NBA MVP. But for the Lakers, the return looks slightly more promising (and I mean very slightly, but still pretty bad considering how valuable Durant is). Jordan Clarkson and two lottery picks in a stacked draft, including the odds-on favorite for the #1 overall selection, is fair enough.

But the real story is how KD impacts his new team, the Chicago Bulls. Chicago had been putting together a decent year on the back of Hassan Whiteside and his 17 points and 15 rebounds per game. But given how competitive the Central has been this year, paired with disappointing output from guys like Rubio, Gordon and Harris, it was time to make a big move – and the Bulls made the biggest one possible.

Chicago might be the favorites to win the Central now, and that’s no short order. The Indiana Core of Young Super Mutants led by Paul George, the grizzled, 26-year-old veteran of the team, still holds bragging rights and sits atop the division fresh off a finals appearance – and to be honest, this team looks like an engine that won’t slow down for the next decade or so. Jason Kidd unleashing the hell on earth that is Giannis Antetokuonmpo at point guard in NBA basketball games has vaulted the Milwaukee Bucks out of anonymity and they’re right in the thick of things, too. Even the duds of the division are not to be brushed off. Cleveland still has LeBron, Dray and Melo, even if they have nothing else, and the surprisingly scrappy Pistons are enjoying great seasons from the scrap heap of NBA players like Ish Smith and Sean Kilpatrick. Oh, and no team in the division has a losing record.

But what might be even more interesting than the division race is how this newly ultra-powered Bulls team will fare against the other top competitors in the East; namely, Atlanta and Charlotte. Both of those teams roll eight or nine deep with players who score 30 or more points per game. They’re also both 18-4, two games above Chicago, and are 2nd and 5th overall in points scored.

Now the top of the East is an arms race. Are Atlanta or Charlotte threatened enough by the Bulls to make a move? Each team has enough young talent to attempt to wrestle a star way from a team who might want to blow it up as the season goes on.

If the season ended today, the playoff seedings would look like this:

  1. Atlanta (18-4)
  2. Charlotte (18-4)
  3. Toronto (17-5)
  4. Indiana (16-6)
  5. Chicago (16-6)
  6. Milwaukee (15-7)
  7. Miami (12-10)
  8. Cleveland (12-10)

So there’s a clear top 6. Chicago is on the rise. How will everyone else keep up?



Some shout outs to teams and players I didn’t get to cover this month:

Shout out to the Raptors. Gotta give it up to them, because even though they play in a trash division and have enjoyed the fourth easiest schedule, they’re still 17-5 and are 9th overall in points. DeMar DeRozan has played like an MVP and Kyle Lowry has looked really good lately after a putrid start. And it’s awesome seeing Vince Carter playing good basketball again.

Shout out to the San Antonio Spurs, who are the league’s best team so far at 20-2 and #1 in overall points. KAT, Kawhi and Drummond are a built-in 150 points per game and that’s enough to propel this team into at least the Conference Finals.

Shout out to Kevin Love. He’s playing his best ball in years and the Cavs have finally figured out how to play him with LeBron and Kyrie. Just get a team around him, Minny!

Shout out to Chris Paul, my choice for MVP this season until about a week ago.

Shout out to Joel Embiid for being the only rookie worth a damn this year (and he wasn’t even drafted this season).

Shout out to Kemba Walker, perhaps the most underrated player in the league.

Shout out to Otto Porter for finally being good.

Shout out to those of us trying to make trades in this league!

And that’s it. See you in January.

Division Previews: Western Conference



This division is all Utah’s. Every player in the starting eight should be good for at least 30 points a game once Hayward and Zeller are back in full health. There are no star players here – the boring but always solid Horford and Hayward are probably as close as the Jazz get to that – but that doesn’t matter with depth like the type that Utah enjoys. This is a team that could finish very high in the West thanks to weak in-division competition.



Portland enjoys having two of the five Hooper family members.
Portland enjoys having two of the five Hooper family members.

Don’t look now, but this team might be a playoff contender. Reaping the benefits of the Aldridge trade, Portland already has a nice young core of Lillard and Butler. The acquisition of DeAndre Jordan means this team is in win-now mode, and with four 1sts next year, there are plenty of trade chips. Portland could use some more help in the supporting cast, which is pretty lacking outside of Rodney Hood. Regardless of what changes might be forthcoming for the Blazers, this is a team on the rise, and the decline of other teams in this division makes them a playoffs dark horse.



A team no longer in the business of winning division championships, the Wolves are looking for ways to get into the postseason again. Armed with a solid if not astounding core of Kevin Love and Jeff Teague, Minnesota has a lot on its roster in terms of end of the bench guys, but the supporting cast just isn’t anything special, or even average, at this point. Barring an unexpected surge from someone else, Minnesota’s third-best player this season will be either Jared Dudley or Jose Calderon. That’s just not good enough. Fortunately, though, Minnesota has some options here. If they decide to make a run, there are assets to be traded, including one of the two first round picks it owns and intriguing youngsters like the Powells and Kelly Oubre. If, however, they decide to hold off, there are plenty of veterans to auction off for picks and younger, cheaper guys. As presently constructed, the Wolves are just an ok team, but there’s a lot of flexibility here.



Denver is about five good players away from being a contender, but what’s there is pretty good – at least in the backcourt. A trio of Booker, Smart and McCollum is a set-and-forget for at least the next 10 seasons at the top of the order. Beyond that, however, the Nuggets are lacking. Jaylen Brown, while exciting, is a total unknown as an NBA players. Faried may no longer be a double-double machine in Denver as the team continues to slowly phase him out. Horford’s arrival in Beantown mercifully sends Olynyk to the bench, and the talented Motiejunas is buried and unhappy in Houston. The entire bench could be cut and this team really wouldn’t be missing anything. This team is on the right track, but still very much in development.



The once-mighty Thunder are still reeling from a woeful 2015-16 season, during which OKC won just 1 single game. The Durant and Westbrook trades allowed OKC one season of success before rearing their ugly heads; now, it will take years for the Thunder to dig themselves out of this hole and become relevant again. The prognosis for 2016-17 remains grim, but the good news is that things are trending up – even if only a little bit. After a nice draft this month, the Thunder now have a young group that includes Bobby Portis, Tyler Ulis, Denzel Valentine, Furkan Korkmaz, Kay Felder and Cam Payne. None of those guys will develop into top players on a championship team, but it’s something. OKC’s mission this season is to get some more picks – they have no 1st rounders for the next two years and no picks at all next fall, which threatens to stall the rebuild significantly.




After taking over this team midway through the league’s first season, the Spurs lucked into the first pick and Karl-Anthony Towns, who is the best first overall pick since LeBron James. Combine KAT with Kawhi and Drummond and you have a lethal trio that should easily average 150 points per game by themselves. And even beyond those three, there’s a lot else to like here. Lin will be the showrunner for the Nets this season. Turner is a weird fit in Portland, but I can see it working. Dieng and Biyombo will collect double-doubles. Jennings and Booker are nice players to have on the bench. The Spurs are one of three teams I see vying for the top spot in the West.



Trust the process!
Trust the process!

After two seasons of lying in wait, it’s finally time for the Pelicans to have a good season. Kyrie and AD have long been the cornerstone pieces of this franchise, and with midseason additions Eric Bledsoe and LaMarcus Aldridge, this team is looking really dangerous. The starting eight is rounded out by two high-upside players in Embiid (finally!) and MKG, and two very solid guards in Manu and CoJo. Plus, there’s Ben Simmons – but who knows if he’ll actually play this season. This team’s biggest problem will be injuries. AD is already banged up. I mentioned Simmons already. Bledsoe, MKG and Kyrie have all missed a lot of games over the past two years. And Embiid hasn’t played basketball in two years. If everything comes together, this team could be unstoppable. But that might be a big “if.”



The Rockets finishing this low is no knock on them. The Southwest is by far the toughest division in the league this year and the two teams above them have just a little bit more juice. This is still a great team led by James Harden, who’s my MVP pick this season. I do have a few concerns about the rest of this team, however, though they are small. Can Deron Williams still be good? Will Barnes be a complete train wreck as a primary option? Will having three starters from the same team (Dallas) hurt the Rockets fantasy-wise? Will Joakim Noah stay healthy? Will Mozgov play under Luke Walton? Will anyone on the bench aside from Henderson contribute anything of consequence? I do think the Rockets will be just fine, but there are enough things about this roster that make me wonder if they can stay on top.



I never know what to say about this team because it’s always been so solid, and it appears they’ll remain so. It just sucks for them that the rest of this division is so good. The Grizzlies would be an easy playoff team in the East, but in the West’s Southwest Division, this team is going to take a pounding from the other top-tier teams. Injuries hampered their campaign last season, and now they’re without Eric Bledose, who’s off playing for a division rival. Still, much like the real Grizzlies, a team backed by Marc Gasol and Mike Conley should do pretty well. For Memphis to do really well, Carroll and Gordon are going to have to stay healthy and Green and Frazier will have to flourish in their new starting roles. Don’t know if I see any of that happening.



I really hate ranking Dallas last, but the fact is that the Southwest is absolutely stacked. This team has a lot of really good young players like Noel, Crowder, Jokic and Mirotic, but there are too many unknowns in the starting eight for me to say that the Mavs will realistically be any better than San Antonio, New Orleans, Houston or Memphis. A backcourt of Seth Curry, James Ennis and Patrick McCaw doesn’t do much for me. Dallas might be able to make some moves, but more likely they just might have to ride out a long season.




There’s a lot of reason to think that the Warriors’ title defense will be pretty successful: namely, Steph Curry. Sure, he’ll score less, but with KD in town Curry will pile on more assists because Durant will make good on all the buckets Barnes would miss. He probably won’t score 30 a game anymore, but maybe he’ll average close to 10 assists. Klay’s value takes a hit with KD in town, but the rest of the starters can make up for that dip. KCP should have a big year as Detroit’s primary outside shooter, Plumlee continues to grow as a player, Teletovic will give much-needed spacing to Jason Kidd’s Bucks, Lopez is the only legitimate NBA player on the Nets, and Turner should make that next step sometime this season. The Middleton injury is a huge blow, and Golden State truly has no bench right now, but I don’t think that’s enough to stop them from emerging from the Pacific on top.



The Kings might really need this year to be a big one. It’s the last time, probably, that they can count on Dirk and Wade to put up big numbers. They’re in great shape for this year, but it’s time to take the next step. Boogie is the kingpin for what should be a great team, and the supporting cast is quite good. Barton and Dellavedova were great pickups. Beal, if healthy, should continue to be very useful. Rudy Gay is a good fantasy player and that’s all I’ll say there. The bench, however, is seriously weak until Burks comes back. Sacramento might have to bulk up in order to stay near the top of the West, but either way, with Cousins in the middle, this is one of the league’s best teams.



Russell Westbrook is going to absolutely light the world on fire this year, and that’s great news for the Suns, who might have the first player since the Big O to average a triple double (even if Westbrook’s come in the form of points, turnovers and missed 3s). Russ is truly where this team begins and ends: how successful the Suns are this year depends on how good he is. The rest of the squad, led by Thomas, Knight, Deng and a few decent bigs, can keep the Suns afloat if something goes wrong, but Russ is the key to this team reaching its full potential.



The Clippers are an interesting team. Much like the real Clippers, this might have to be this team’s last year rolling Blake and CP3 before some changes are made. Several off-season moves – such as their trade of next year’s pick and the signing of David West – send a message to the league that this team wants to win now. With this roster, I actually can see LA making some noise this year; the dynamic duo is backed by a slew of vets that include Korver, Frye, West and Lee, all of whom should produce reasonably this year. Josh Richardson is all that the team has in terms of youth, unless Luwawu or Onuaku have big rookie years out of nowhere. There’s a lot to like here – but there’s a lot more to like in Oakland, Sacramento and Phoenix.



How can a team that has Kevin Durant continue to underperform? I’m telling you, man, depth really matters in this league. The blockbuster deal that sent KD to LA ended up being a killer for both sides as the Lakers continue to struggle to put the right pieces around their superstar, whose fantasy value is taking a hit, by the way, playing next to Steph and Klay. Robin Lopez might end up being the Lakers’ second-best player. Tony Parker is still ok but has been declining for about five years. DRose could be a revelation in New York, or he could be a disaster. Nobody else on this team offers meaningful production. If I’m the Lakers, I try to get young quickly without letting go of Durant and start building an army, because this division is not getting any easier.











Division Previews: Eastern Conference

Basketball is finally almost here!

Let’s get to some predicting. Here, I give my guesses as to how the divisions will end up, and who makes the postseason.




Toronto, for the third straight year, is going to walk into a division title just because it’s the only team in this division that isn’t a complete train wreck or deep in a rebuild. Lowry and DeRozan, as in real life, are a fine if not particularly riveting duo. Randolph and Gortat have historically been the leading second-tier contributors for the Raptors, but Gorat is in decline and Randolph is 35 and now coming off the bench in Memphis. And beyond that, Toronto doesn’t have too much going on. Ahead of a bench with no one particularly useful on it, the Raptors will be counting on big production from the likes of Dion Waiters, Patrick Patterson and Omri Casspi, which doesn’t sound too promising for Toronto’s playoff run – especially considering how good some other teams in the East are becoming.



New York made one of the biggest off-season trades by trading DeAndre Jordan for the younger hometown kid with more potential: Kristaps Porzingis. A great move for the Knicks, which sets a foundation for them to stay relevant down the road in a division with three long-term redevelopers while simultaneously remaining the second best team in the Atlantic. If things go really wrong in the East’s other two divisions, this team might even sniff at a playoff spot – but don’t count on it. A couple of New York’s role players – Patty Mills, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Johnson – could help the Knicks spoil some games, and there is a slew of promising rookies also present on the roster. This team could be pretty interesting in a couple of years.



My team would finish dead last in any other division, but here we are in the Atlantic, where sub-mediocrity is just part of the brand. Fantrax projects the Nets to have five players put up 24 points per game or more this season, which is actually more than any other team in the division, even the Raptors. Brooklyn is still very much in rebuild mode, but the lack of competition within the Atlantic might push this team over 35 wins and spoil another chance at a high draft pick.



Boston's playoff odds.
Boston’s playoff odds.

Still a long way to go for the Celtics, too. Russell is a franchise point guard and Winslow will be great for a long time in the NBA, but there are still so many holes on this team. Nurkic, Poeltl, Jones and Anderson are pieces worth holding onto, but you can pretty much scrap the rest of this roster. The Celtics missed out on a high draft pick after a stinker season last year, but they should have another pick in the top 5 next fall.



Philly’s new owner has done an admirable job so far of trying to make this team’s future a bit brighter, but for now, this team still stinks. Mudiay will produce fantasy numbers this year, but beyond that, I don’t think any of these players will do anything meaningful this season, except maybe Allen Crabbe. The 76ers had a ton of draft picks this year, but aside from Marquese Chriss, will any of them pan out? I love Diallo’s game, but he’s still a gamble. Brogdon, Papagiannis and Niang are all very low-ceiling, as are other prospects like McDaniels, Bertans and Robinson. Having no 1sts in 2017 hurts this team’s rebuild in a major way and it could be a long few years for the 76ers.





I’m not as bullish (pun intended) on this team as I was last year, but I do think they should win the division again. Players 1-8 on this team are all really good, with Asik and Len possibly being exceptions. The rising cap has saved Chicago and given the Bulls a little bit of wiggle room to add some sorely-needed bench depth. Livingston is solid, Abrines could be nice, but I’m not sold on anyone else here. Parsons will be a big addition when he comes back, but when will that be? Regardless, Chicago has the best starting lineup in the Central and should repeat as champs, unless some of Indiana or Milwaukee’s young guys make a big step up this season.



Indy shocked the league by making the finals last season, riding hot streaks from its young core. The Pacers don’t have much to worry about – that young core is still the best in the league. However, I do think this team is still a year or two away from sustaining consistent greatness over a full season. A look up and down this roster speaks for itself and I’ve written a ton about this in the past: This is a team built for long-term success. Will they get lucky in the playoffs again?



I was down on the Bucks last season, but recent developments have made this team really interesting – first and foremost, the miraculous emergence of Point Giannis, who might be a top 10 fantasy player this season and is a 21-year-old, 7-foot-tall point forward (NOT A POINT GUARD. STOP SAYING THIS!). Ibaka’s move to Orlando removes him from the role of understudy and will probably make him the focal point on offense for the Magic. Oladipo leaving town will open up a ton of room for Payton to play more effectively and have shooters around him. Solomon Hill will be starting (lol) for the Pelicans. Thad Young will be counted on in Indiana. The Bucks had just one 2nd round pick this year and no more picks until 2018, but fortune may have bought this team a few more good years. The Bucks don’t have many trade pieces to build some depth, which would go a long way, so that limits them a bit this season, but they could make the playoffs.



Man, what happened here? Cleveland began this league as the prohibitive favorite. Now? LeBron is still LeBron, but expect him to play a lot less this year now that he’s finally won a title for his hometown team. Melo might be washed. Green is still great, but KD coming to Golden State will probably push him to play center a lot more and thus have the ball in his hands less frequently. And beyond that big three, there’s not a single player I like here. Morris is still a head case and Pachulia is a terrible fit for the Warriors and will probably get phased out pretty quickly. Maybe the big three will be enough to carry Cleveland to the playoffs, but maybe not.



Things are not looking great in Motor City after the Andre Drummond trade. Detroit got a lot of picks out of it, but Jahlil Okafor might never be given a chance to put up numbers again and this team doesn’t have a lot of help elsewhere. There are some intriguing youngsters – Hield, McDermott, Hernangomez, Muhammad, Nance – but they’re all still a number of years away from big production and this team’s best fantasy player is Tristan Thompson. Could be a long season for Detroit.




This is still Atlanta’s division until someone comes and takes it from them. Depth is still this team’s biggest issue, although the new ownership deserves some credit for assembling some at least decent backups. (Last year’s owner, if you’ll recall, rode the league’s best starting 8 [put together by another – nameless – GM] all the way to the league’s best record and a nice cash prize.) Much of the Hawks’ success will be determined by how three big names – Rondo, Howard and Oladipo – perform on their new teams. Paul Millsap is the league’s most underrated player, both in real life and fantasy, and is easily a top-10 all-around, two-way NBA player. Luckily for Atlanta, all three relocations seem for now to be of benefit to the players in question. Atlanta is poised for another good year, but they’ve got to continue sculpting this roster if long-term success is on the agenda.


Charlotte was the most unexpectedly good team of last season, and there’s a chance they can be even better this year. It’s likely they can even push Atlanta for the division crown and make another deep playoff run. Kemba and Bazemore both had career years last season; they’ll need to keep that up. Capela, Bogut and Kanter all figure to have increased offensive roles in their new situations. Warren and Porter have to develop and produce this year, and many think they will. Bradley and Aminu are rock solid. Anything the Hornets get from Jefferson, Wroten and MCW is gravy. Plus, that salary cap nightmare is finally sorted out – even if it took a leaguewide bailout. Keep an eye on this squad.



Goran want 2nd place, not 3rd.
Goran want 2nd place, not 3rd.

Miami, largely due to the fierce competitiveness of the division, has always been a team on the cusp of the playoffs. This year, I think the Heat can make a leap forward. There are some nice pieces here, starting with Dragic and Collison, who are literally the only competent point guards on their respective teams and will thus play a lot. Valanciunas may take a big step up this season. Iggy, Crawford, Morris and Fournier are money in the bank. Bogdanovic could be a secret weapon. Given the declining state of the Southeast, Miami may be poised for a nice season. And I’m not even considering Chris Bosh.


From a championship in season 1 to missing the playoffs last year, the Wizards will finish this season with answers that are currently unknown. Are Wall and Randle a good enough one-two punch to repeat as title contenders? Has the competition in the Southeast cooled off enough for this team to have sustained success? Just how dire is the issue of depth with this team? I take a long look at this team’s rotation players – Andre Roberson and his one career good offensive game, Jeff Green and his inconsistent production, Mike Scott and his $23 million contract, the ghost of Tyson Chandler – and I can’t help but think it’s going to be a long year in the capitol. The Wizards might be on the downswing, and looking back, that Bradley Beal trade hurts if that’s the case (Washington did get three 1sts in the deal, but two of those are already made [the low-ceiling Domantas Sabonis and the what the heck is this guy Skal Labissiere], and the other one is two years away).


This team's in so much trouble that they get a watermarked stock photo.
This team’s in so much trouble that they get a watermarked stock photo.

This is a team in crisis mode. Despite a stacked front line, the one-mighty Magic are suddenly staring at an immense uphill battle to reclaim glory for the city of Orlando. One look at the roster is all you need to get a sense of where this franchise is. Orlando will quickly have to flip some pieces for a couple of guards, or they’re staring a Steve Blake – Jason Terry – Kevin Martin – Tayshaun Prince starting lineup dead in the face – and three of those guys aren’t even on an NBA team. Trading high-intrigue pieces like Dragan Bender, Ivica Zubac, Tyreke Evans and some picks may be the only way out of dire straits, unless the Magic decide to hope for the best in free agency this season. There’s a lot of work to be done here, and it’s gotta be done fast.











Real Deal Report: 2016 Draft Recap

So, this is a little bit late, I apologize. But I do actually have an excuse because I moved to a new state at the beginning of the month and the job search has been priority one. Taking a break today to do this.

With the 2016 draft complete, it’s time to sit back and get ready for the season after a long few months of no NBA basketball. But first, let’s take a quick look back at all 60 picks from the weekend’s draft.

Last year, I gave draft grades to teams, but there were too many that either had like 10 picks or no picks at all. So this year I’m grading pick by pick.


1. New Orleans Pelicans: Ben Simmons
Grade: A
Even with the news that Simmons is going to miss two months or more, this was the obvious pick. Simmons is a potential generational talent and could be the best player in the NBA in five years. He’s ideal from a fantasy perspective, too, because of his ability to rack up triple doubles. Adding Simmons to a base foundation of Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and Joel Embiid gives New Orleans a crop of potential mega-stars – that is, if they can all stay healthy and reach their potential.

2. Brooklyn Nets: Brandon Ingram
Grade: A
This was also an obvious pick. Ingram is rail thin and will get bullied in his rookie season, but he’s the best pure scorer in this draft and I don’t think the Durant comparisons are too far off base. Ingram becomes the centerpiece for a team whose supporting cast is slowly becoming better and better.

3. Indiana Pacers: Kris Dunn
Grade: A
Yet another obvious pick. Dunn is an ideal replacement for Mudiay and clearly the third best player in this draft. He’s also someone who can step in right away and start producing results for a Pacers team that made the finals last year after finishing dead last in year one. Even if Thibs hates rookies, it’s only a matter of time before Dunn replaces Rubio as the starting PG for the Timberwolves, which is coincidentally a young team rapidly on the rise just like these Pacers.

4. Detroit Pistons: Buddy Hield
Grade: A-
I’ll be honest: at first, I hated this pick. I think Hield is supremely overrated as a basketball player and that he can’t do much besides shoot. But the more I thought about it, the more the pick grew on me. The Pelicans are going to be a disaster again this season so they’ll be bound to let Hield loose and see what they’ve got in him. Clearing out Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson will leave a lot of 3s open for Hield.

5. Orlando Magic: Dragan Bender
Grade: A-
I’m actually one of the few people that doesn’t think Bender needs a few more years of development before he can make an impact. His basketball IQ is NBA-level already and his skills are pretty advanced for a teenager. But I hate, hate, hate his situation. Drafting Bender and Chriss just seems like a careless experiment to see who their future PF will be. Neither of them can play any other position yet – Bender because he’s too slim and weak to play C and Chriss because his defense is horrendous. Outside of Simmons and Ingram, I think Bender has the most potential in this draft class, but I was a bit surprised to see Orlando pick him over someone who will make a more immediate impact.

6. Dallas Mavericks: Jamal Murray
Grade: A
There were four guys at the top of this draft that I thought stood out as the players with the most potential by a wide margin over the rest of the class: Simmons, Ingram, Bender and Murray. This kid can straight up ball, folks, and he has confidence in spades and the ability to score in bunches. The Nuggets have a great young guard rotation with Mudiay and Harris starting and Murray and Barton behind them. I’m not convinced Murray and Barton can coexist because their usage is so similar, and I’m also not convinced that Murray can ever be a point guard in this league. But Murray has star written all over him, and those guys usually figure out a way to succeed. Great pick by Dallas.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder: Denzel Valentine
Grade: C
A bit of a reach. The Bulls are going to be a mess that is going to take a long time to figure out, and I’m not sure here Valentine ultimately settles in. Hoiberg will love his high basketball IQ and passing ability from anywhere on the court, but his ceiling as a fantasy player is limited and he has a lot of guys ahead of him on the depth chart. For an OKC team that is rebuilding from the ground up, I respect the decision to go for a solid player here rather than a high-risk, high reward type, but there were guys on the board who would’ve been a better choice, I think.

8. New York Knicks: Thon Maker
Grade: B+
The enigma! Is he 19 or 35? It might not matter because he may end up being the starting center for the Bucks on opening night. We all remember this kid (adult?) from his insane mixtape a few years ago, but unfortunately he hasn’t really progressed much in terms of skills since then. Maker remains, for the most part, a soul that occupies an ideal basketball body but just doesn’t quite know how to play the game. Jason Kidd doesn’t exactly strike me as a top-notch talent development guy, but there’s no question that Maker fits in with the Bucks’ wacky all-limbs lineup. Maker’s potential is sky-high, but it actually has to start manifesting itself pretty soon or this is not such a great pick. For now, given his potential, I think it was an all right choice.

9. Denver Nuggets: Jaylen Brown
Grade: A-
Brown also kind of fits the mold of having supreme talent with not so supreme basketball skills and IQ. He is a phenomenal athlete but at this point he can’t do much beyond driving to the bucket, and even then his finishing is pretty subpar. He finds himself in a perfect situation in Boston, where Brad Stevens will have time to mold and teach him.

10. Philadelphia 76ers: Marquese Chriss
Grade: A
This is a good pick based on potential alone. The most explosive player in the draft, Chriss is yet another guy who has yet to put it all together and play basketball properly. He’s got time in Phoenix, but it’s worth monitoring this guy and seeing if anything happens there this season. His ceiling may be Shawn Kemp, but his floor is Thomas Robinson.

11. Washington Wizards: Domantas Sabonis
Grade: A-
Would have liked to see the Wizards go for a wing player here, where they need help the most, but adding a presence as solid as Sabonis to their transforming core seems like a good move. Much like the real Wizards, Washington surprisingly plummeted out of the playoffs and suddenly doesn’t have much talent on the roster besides Wall and Beal (OK, and Julius Randle). Sabonis doesn’t strike me as an ace fantasy player, but this is far from the worst pick so far.

12. Dallas Mavericks: Juancho Hernangomez
Grade: A
Juancho Man Randy Savage will probably end up being the Nuggets’ backup 4 to start the year, and could quickly become the starter if Denver trades Faried. A skilled stretch 4 with good all-around talent, Hernangomez would be a nice fit anywhere.

13. Sacramento Kings: Wade Baldwin
Grade: A
Being Mike Conley’s understudy will be great for Wade Baldwin, who runs the risk of becoming just a defensive specialist if he doesn’t have the chance to learn to play offense. It might behoove him to become a 2 and play alongside Conley, taking over the Tony Allen role. Either way, this guy is a monster physically for a guard and a really fun player to watch. Memphis kind of seemed like his destiny to keep the grit and grind alive for one more year.

14. Boston Celtics: Jakob Poeltl
Grade: B-
I don’t like this pick and I don’t like Poeltl as a player. Watch his game against Sabonis in the NCAA Tournament to see why. I think Poeltl’s ceiling is pretty low and I don’t see him getting a lot of playing time in Toronto, at least right away.

15. New York Knicks: Caris LeVert
Grade: B-
At this point in the draft, all of the actual good players were gone, so any pick looks like a reach here, but this one was a bit of a head-scratcher. Caris LeVert is made of glass and, despite what you hear from most analysts, does not have lottery talent. He’s an old school style player that doesn’t fit ideally in the modern NBA and Brooklyn isn’t exactly the most nurturing environment. Maybe this pick pans out, but for now I don’t see it.

16. Memphis Grizzlies: Taurean Prince
Grade: B+
I like this pick for Memphis. It gives them another DeMarre Carroll type player and is just overall very solid. Fits in well with the rest of the Grizzlies’ squad of solid but not flashy players.

17. New York Knicks: Henry Ellenson
Grade: B
Will Henry Ellenson ever make it in the NBA? I’m not sure. His skills are enticing – a legit 7 footer who can shoot threes is always of interest – but his defense will likely never be NBA level and his game has a long way to go. This pick was purely a prospective one for New York, as Ellenson isn’t going to get any playing time this year in Detroit behind Harris, Morris, Leuer, Drummond, Baynes and Boban.

18. Orlando Magic: Ivica Zubac
Grade: A+
One of the best picks in this year’s draft. Zubac is already a tenacious post player and a solid defender down low who will grow into a perfect player to complement the Lakers’ young big trio of Ingram, Russell and Randle. I would have taken Zubac in the top 10, and for Orlando to get him here at 18 was a coup. Luke Walton won’t hesitate to put this guy in ahead of Tarik Black and Timo Mozgov (seriously, why is this guy on this team?).

19. Oklahoma City Thunder: Tyler Ulis
Grade: A
I freaking love this pick by OKC. Ulis is a straight up baller who would have been a top 5 player in this year’s draft if he wasn’t 5’8″. His height didn’t stop him in college, but it will obviously be a greater obstacle in the NBA. Still, Ulis is a terrifically smart basketball player who’s lightning quick and is a phenomenal passer and floor general who can also shoot threes. Ulis will have a long and successful NBA career.

20. Los Angeles Clippers: Timothe Luwawu-Caborrot
Grade: B-
I’m not a huge fan of Luwawu. His game has a long way to go and he may never surpass a Thabo Sefolosha type of role. He also has the misfortune of being stuck in the Philly logjam behind Covington, Henderson, Grant, Thompson and Stauskas. A lot of people think he can turn into a very nice three-and-D guy, but I just don’t see it.

21. Houston Rockets: Jake Layman
Grade: D
The first pick in this draft that really took me by surprise. Layman may not even make Portland’s roster and was a mid second round pick. There are rumblings that Layman can eventually turn into a Chandler Parsons type, but I think that’s a longshot. If he does make the roster, there aren’t really any minutes for him behind Turner, Crabbe, Aminu, Harkless, Davis and Vonleh. I think Houston would have been better off trading this pick to help shore up its thinning bench.

22. Sacramento Kings: DeAndre Bembry
Grade: B
A safe pick, if not an inspired one. Bembry was a late riser in the draft this year and is probably not a first round talent, but he does figure to be a solid bench piece. Sort of a poor man’s Denzel Valentine, he can do a little bit of everything including passing, shooting and rebounding. There were definitely worse things to do with this pick.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves: Damian Jones
Grade: A-
Nice grab for the Wolves here. Jones is a really nice defensive center who probably won’t be asked to do much this year, but could find his way into some playing time if Zaza doesn’t work out (he kind of doesn’t fit what the Warriors are all about), McGee stinks as usual and Varejao gets hurt (he will). He’ll grow into a really good backup center in time.

24. San Antonio Spurs: Dejounte Murray
Grade: A
I really like this choice by the Spurs, who are a guard away from title contention. Not that Murray is that guard, but it’s a nice gamble: low-risk, high reward. If anyone can make use of Murray’s wild game, it’s Popovich.

25. Philadelphia 76ers: Cheick Diallo
Grade: A+
Home run of a pick. Diallo has always had lottery talent, but because he didn’t fit in Bill Self’s system, the entire NBA forgot about him. Sure, he looked horrible at Kansas, but the physical profile is there. He’s an explosive leaper who shows a ton of promise as a shot blocker and rim runner, but one thing many people don’t know about him is that he also has a pretty sweet short range jumper that’s in development. Diallo was the definition of post-hype sleeper in this year’s draft and I think he’s a great piece.

26. Dallas Mavericks: Patrick McCaw
Grade: A+
Great pick. Golden State quietly lost significant guard depth this offseason, so there’s a good chance McCaw plays a lot – especially when the Warriors are winning by 40 at halftime. McCaw is a smart defensive 2 guard who can handle the ball a bit and could emerge as a garbage time king, especially if he improves his jumper.

27. Washington Wizards: Skal Labissiere
Grade: B
I had hope that there was still something left for Labissiere’s potential until he got drafted by Sacramento. Now, I think you can more or less scratch him off. The guy looked clueless on the basketball court in Kentucky, despite (or maybe because of) people calling him a better prospect than Ben Simmons this time last year. There were a few guys Washington could’ve taken here that would provide more immediate help, but this is still an ok value pick if you believe in Skal still.

28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kay Felder
Grade: A+
Another pick by OKC that I absolutely love. Like Ulis, Felder would be a lottery talent if he wasn’t such a li’l guy. Unlike Ulis, however, Felder possesses immense athleticism and explosiveness: he posted the second highest vertical leap EVER in the history of the combine at 44 inches. That’s almost four freaking feet in the air and like a foot and a half lower than the top of his head. Beyond that, he’s also a smart player and a good floor general. And beyond that, he’s poised to be Cleveland’s backup PG this year. Terrific selection by OKC. Plus, have you ever seen this guy dribble a basketball? It’s awesome. He like slams it into the ground with each dribble like he’s mad at it. He looks like this dude:

29. Indiana Pacers: Deyonta Davis
Grade: A+
Slam dunk of a pick. Davis is perhaps the best defensive player in the draft class but fell to round 2 because he underperformed at Michigan State. He should have been drafted a lot higher and I’m surprised he fell so far in this draft, too.

30. Toronto Raptors: Pascal Siakam
Grade: B
Siakam is one of those African dudes with amazing athletic skills that only started playing basketball when he was like 16. Despite that, he shows pretty good fundamentals, but his game is definitely still centered around his hustle and athleticism. Toronto is really hurting for a PF with Patterson and Sullinger as their only options right now, so they might be hoping to get something from Siakam soon, but his skill level right now is more suited for the D League.

31. Detroit Pistons: Malcolm Brogdon
Grade: B
Brogdon is a really solid player, especially defensively, but I’m not high on him as a fantasy player; he may never be more than a defensive stopper. Still, though, his basketball IQ is top notch – that combined with his defense will get him on the court for this inexperienced Bucks team. Overall a decent selection.

32. Brooklyn Nets: Isaiah Whitehead
Grade: A
The Nets apparently loved this guy so much that they traded up for him, and their guard situation is so bleak that he will probably be on the floor a lot this season. His competition – Greivis Vasquez, Randy Foye, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick, Yogi Farrell and Chase Budinger – don’t exactly put fear in one’s heart. With good coaching, he can carve out a career for himself as a volume bench scorer.

33. Philadelphia 76ers: Georges Niang
Grade: C+
Rumor has it that the Pacers want to use Niang this season, but I don’t buy it. He’s a low ceiling guy who will make the roster, but I really don’t see him playing much. He’s slow and unathletic, which is kind of the opposite direction the Pacers are moving in, but he can shoot 3s which is always good. A second rounder is never going to make or break a team’s future but I think there were better guys here.

34. New York Knicks: Brice Johnson
Grade: A
Really nice value pick. Doc Rivers might have no choice to play this guy because of his elite rebounding skills, even with veterans Mbah a Moute and Bass in front of him. The Clippers’ likely tendency to go small might push him further down the pine, but Johnson will eventually be a rotation player somewhere.

35. Boston Celtics: Malik Beasley
Grade: A-
I don’t know how the hell Beasley gets any playing time this year, but he’s a good prospect. In the right situation he can become a useful 3 and D guard.

36. Los Angeles Clippers: Chinanu Onuaku
Grade: B
Not a bad pick. Onuaku is a classic defense-first energy big. He’s a significantly undersized center with raw (read: bad) offensive skills, so there’s a chance he might not stick on a roster in the NBA, but if he can run, D’Antoni might give him a shot. Plus, he shoots his free throws grandma style:

37. Los Angeles Lakers: Ron Baker
Grade: B+
Baker is a longshot to make it in the NBA from a talent perspective, but actually seems poised to make the Knicks roster. My guess is that Baker will fall somewhere between Linsanity and whatever it was that Jimmer Fredette did for the Knicks that one time.

38. Philadelphia 76ers: Georgios Papagiannis
Grade: C+
This was a throwaway pick for the Kings, but it’s just whatever for Philly. Papagiannis should have gone undrafted and has no NBA talent to speak of beyond his monstrous size.

39. Denver Nuggets: Guerschon Yabusele
Grade: A+
Five years from now, I think Yabusele could be one of the best 10 players from this draft. The dude is an animal. Unfortunately he’ll spend this season overseas. He’s a bruiser with an elite build and physicality, and possesses a nice jumper and even flashes some ball handling skills, even as most of his game is in development. One of my favorite picks in this draft.

40. Toronto Raptors: Fred Van Vleet
Grade: D
Toronto’s next pick was so good, but this one was very much not so. Van Vleet has looked terrible in preseason and is the fifth point guard for Toronto at this point behind Lowry, Joseph and Delon Wright and Brady Heslip, although even that doesn’t really matter because no PG plays beyond Joseph. I’ll be surprised if he makes the Raptors’ final roster.

41. Toronto Raptors: Furkan Korkmaz
Grade: A+
How the hell did this guy fall so far? A lottery talent for sure, and at 18, he’s got lots of room to grow. When he comes to the NBA, he’ll be a lights-out shooter, and he’s also a pretty good athlete. A middle-class version of Mario Hezonja.

42. Toronto Raptors: Ante Zizic
Grade: A
Another nice value pick. Zizic balled out in the Adriatic League last season and is pegged for another season abroad. Great stash guy.

43. Brooklyn Nets: Malachi Richardson
Grade: B
Richardson’s game is all over the place, and he probably only went in the first round because of his tournament performance, but I think this was an ok pick based on value. The Kings roster is a crime against basketball so there’s plenty of room to carve out a role.

44. Washington Wizards: Diamond Stone
Grade: B-
Diamond Stone is a lot like Greg Monroe: a small-ish center who doesn’t defend, doesn’t rebound very well and doesn’t score outside the paint. In other words, a dinosaur. And we all know Doc Rivers doesn’t let rookies play. Many considered Stone a first round talent, but I think the game may have just passed him by. We’ll see.

45. Oklahoma City Thunder: AJ Hammons
Grade: A
Another ace pick by OKC. I freaking love Hammons as a prospect. He’s 23 already, but this dude is a monster physically and can eventually become a starting-level center for a defensive-minded team. Really nice rebounder and shot blocker with an elite physical profile.

46. Memphis Grizzlies: Paul Zipser
Grade: A-
Really nice pick. Zipser has borderline first round talent but fell because he’s 22 and from Europe. Chicago actually gave him a guaranteed deal, so he’ll be on the roster, but I doubt he plays much. From a value perspective, though, this was a good pick.

47. Milwaukee Bucks: Michael Gbinije
Grade: C+
Gbinije is an extremely physical and athletic kid, but he’s already 24 and has no discernable basketball skills, although Syracuse tried using him as a ballhandler with mixed results. A D League stash for now, but I’m not sure he’s a guy who pans out.

48. Portland Trail Blazers: Isaiah Cousins
Grade: A-
I like this pick. Sacramento’s other PGs are Ty Lawson, Jordan Farmar and the suspended Darren Collison. Cousins is nothing special but he could end up getting minutes.

49. Indiana Pacers: Zhou Qi
Grade: A
Love this pick. Qi is another guy with questions about his real age, but I think this guy is super talented and may have star potential. A mobile big who can shoot 3s and block shots, Qi needs to bulk up before he can play in the NBA but I think he can eventually become a bigger, faster Channing Frye who can protect the rim. Qi is a first round talent in my book and I would have drafted him at 1.22 if I didn’t end up trading that pick.

50. Los Angeles Lakers: Ben Bentil
Grade: B
Solid grab here. Bentil is an extremely foolhardy player but does have some talent. He’s a D Leaguer for now but could turn into a bench piece some day.

51. Minnesota Timberwolves: Alex Poythress
Grade: C
Poythress has proven at this point that he doesn’t hold any promise as an NBA player.

52. Cleveland Cavaliers: Gary Payton II
Grade: B
I don’t think The Mitten will pan out in the NBA, but it was worth taking him on potential alone.

53. Minnesota Timberwolves: Cat Barber
Grade: A+
Barber is the biggest sleeper in this draft. This guy might immediately challenge John Wall to claim the title of NBA’s fastest player if he sticks on the roster, which is looking fairly likely. Cat’s game is reminiscent of Ish Smith’s, and we all know how well that went fantasy-wise when Smith was a Sixer. Barber might have to spend some time in the D League, but I really hope Philly gives this guy a shot. I think he can turn into a useful bench scorer in the NBA.

54. Toronto Raptors: Drew Crawford
Grade: F
This pick ended up getting dropped anyway so I don’t mind saying it was the worst one in this draft. A 26-year-old from Northwestern doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

55. Charlotte Hornets: Joel Bolomboy
Grade: A
Bolomboy figures to be kind of a poor man’s Kenneth Faried in the NBA, and the Jazz seem like a good fit. It’s doubtful he’ll play much for Utah but I still like this pick based on his ability to run and rebound.

56. Portland Trail Blazers: Demetrius Jackson
Grade: A
Late in the NCAA season, scout were saying Jackson was a lottery pick. But then he fell to the 2nd round. Jackson ended up in a terrible situation in Boston behind Thomas, Smart, Bradley and Terry Rozier but remains a very good prospect with elite speed, exposiveness and scoring ability. Great value pick, even if it takes a few years for him to end up in a better spot.

57. Denver Nuggets: Petr Cornelie
Grade: B
No complaints about this pick. Cornelie is a sort of fringe NBA guy but has decent potential. Will probably spend the next few years overseas.

58. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jameel Warney
Grade: B-
Warney is an ok pick here, but it probably would have been better for the rebuilding OKC to grab someone younger with a bit more potential instead of a senior from a small school.

59. Indiana Pacers: Gracin Bakumanya
Grade: B
Full disclosure: I have no idea who this guy is. But he’s 19, 6’11” and has a 7’3″ wingspan. So that’s what the picks in the late 2nd are all about: just take a guy on pure potential. If it doesn’t work out, no biggie.

60. Brooklyn Nets: Stephen Zimmerman
Grade: A
Did people just forget about this guy because his name is at the end of the alphabet? He’s a 7-foot 20-year-old with a 9’1″ standing reach and was a top-10 high school recruit who can shoot 3s and block shots. No idea how this guy almost went undrafted, and I’m happy to have him.

Free Agency 2016: The Best Available

Free agency, after a short delay, is upon us once more.
Last season’s initial free agency period was way more wild and crazy than even the most optimistic or drunk of us could have even imagined. Hassan Whiteside got $46 million a year. Bobby Covington got north of $20 per. Jordan Clarkson got paid a $32 million a year deal. And two of those guys ended up on the same team!
This year I think will not be as insane. We’re all one year deeper into the league, one year wiser and one year further fed up with our rosters. Seriously, is Mario Hezonja EVER going to get some damn playing time?! On top of that, the free agency pool is not as good as last year’s. You won’t find guys like Whiteside and Clarkson available, even if you did want to overpay them.
So let’s take a look at who’s out there:


– Dewayne Dedmon, a shot blocking monster who I really like as the Spurs’ backup center
– Marcus Thornton, simply for the fact that he can score in spurts and the Wizards have virtually no offense to speak of off the bench
– Paul Pierce, because why not
– Leandro Barbosa, because maybe he’s still got some magic left in there
– Salah Mejri, even though he’s way more useful in real life than in fantasy


Beasley would rank higher on this list if anyone had any faith that he could play a whole season without getting caught smokin’ doobies, or playing like he just smoked a doobie. Last year, after being exiled to China for most of the NBA season, Beasley returned and, you know what, he was pretty decent for the Rockets. In 20 games, he put up over 26 fantasy points per game – more than enough to warrant a bench spot for most contenders and the highest per game output for any available free agent. And none of you would even give me a second round pick for him at the end of last season. Boo! Where Beasley fits on this Rockets team and if he can continue playing at the level he did last spring remains to be seen. The Greasy Beasy will be stuck in the forward rotation behind the likes of Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Domantas Motiejunas and even probably Corey Brewer, plus second-year players Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell are knocking on the door and will be demanding attention sooner rather than later. Could I see Beasley wasting away on the bench and getting DNPed half the time? Yeah. Could I also see someone plunking down a $15 million a year contract on the hopes that he can match last season? Yeah, I could see that too.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Contenders with bench and cap space, Desperate teams telling themselves “But he was the second overall pick!”, Bored teams with cap space, Teams with no depth and no trade bait


James Ennis has been a sexy “deep sleeper” pick by morons who get paid to write fantasy content for Bleacher Report or SB Nation or something because of one good preseason for Miami a few years ago, and somehow still has a lot of that hype around him, but the fact is he’s really not a very good NBA player, like, at all. But Memphis is a good situation for him. Fresh off scoring 16 points per game (real points, not fantasy) for the Pelicans in the spring, Ennis is back with the Grizzlies and reunited with David Fizdale, whom I personally guarantee is about to become a sensation – not for his coaching ability but because of his goober persona and meme-ability. Ennis is a bulky wing player who can shoot from distance and defend 3s and 4s, and that makes him kind of a unique player on the Grizzlies roster as a sort of replacement Jeff Green, who is actually quite bad at shooting from distance and defending 3s and 4s. Ennis is going to have to contend with JaMychal Green for playing time at the stretch 4 spot off the bench, if Fizdale decides his play style will match the Grizzlies guard-heavy roster. Either way, this is going to be a rebuilding year for the Grizzlies, a team whose roster absolutely stinks outside of Conley and Gasol, and that means garbage guys like James Ennis will have an opportunity to shine.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Desperate teams telling themselves “All that hype can’t just be noise!”, Sneaky teams looking for cheap depth


Sefolosha is as steady as he is boring, which is to say he does not inspire intrigue as a basketball player – fantasy or otherwise. Writing these previews I had actually forgotten he’s not still on the Thunder. On the court, you know what you’re getting: pretty good wing defense and the occasional trey. In fantasy, you know what you’re getting: 20-22 fantasy points per game and not much else. Sefolosha’s job is about to be in trouble because they Hawks used the #12 pick to reach for a better, younger version of himself in Taurean Prince from Baylor. Prince is currently #3 on the depth chart at small forward behind Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore, The Once and Future King of Atlanta, Georgia, and is definitely coming for Thabo’s spot. Coach Bud will definitely give the nod to Sefolosha over the rookie to start the year, but it may be in the team’s best interest to start ceding some of Thabo’s minutes to Prince. Both of those guys, though, miss out on opportunities to play a defensive stretch 4 role for Atlanta, because their regular 4, Paul Millsap, also happens to be an ideal stretch 4 offensively and one of the best defensive forwards in the league. So what makes Sefolosha appealing at all? Well, he’s still better than Tim Hardaway Jr. and Bazemore is bound to have some bad games. That’s pretty much it.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Contenders with little cap space, Teams with no depth who want veterans


The Real Nets roster is even more of a shambles than The Fake Nets’ one, holy cow. The Barclays Center was an absolute wasteland last season, but one of the few guys to emerge from the bloodbath looking somewhat decent was Sean Kilpatrick – and that’s mostly because Kilpatrick played a fairly big part in creating that bloodbath in the first place. The Nets’ players were allowed to do pretty much whatever the hell they wanted past a certain point in the winter, and much of that involved Kilpatrick running like a lunatic at the basket as soon as he touched leather. That’s pretty much all he offers on a basketball court aside from some spot-up threes, but that might be good enough because he averaged about 30 fantasy points per game when things got really out of hand for the Nets at the end of the season. Things will settle back to normal this season for Kilpatrick with the arrival of some more guards, and it’s likely that Kilpatrick is the third shooting guard for Brooklyn behind Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert, a marvelous glass statue that has come to life and learned to play hoops, or even fourth behind Randy Foye, who is on this team for some reason. But I mean he’s still better than Joe Harris for crying out loud so there’s that.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Young rebuilding teams, Teams with little cap space on the playoff bubble


On paper, Raymond Felton and I have the exact same body type, right down to the measurables: six-foot-one and two-hundred-and(ahem ahem cough) pounds. The only difference is that Felton is a millionaire athlete and I am writing this at 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday at my desk. Felton is so inconsistent on a year-to-year basis but he had a nice season for Dallas last year – but then again Rick Carlisle can make almost any point guard look good. For the first time in a while, the Clippers have some decent depth and Felton will be playing with guys in the second unit who can actually help him out. Speights and Bass are two big fatties who can shoot from midrange, opening up more floor space for Felton to do whatever it is that he can manage. Add Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce to that unit and you’ve got something interesting, and Doc will surely be relying on that bench unit more this season so as not to overexert his big three. This is probably the last year of that Clippers core, so CP3 and Blake will be well rested for the playoffs. I don’t think much of Felton as a player but he’s better than Austin Rivers.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Teams willing to overspend on a backup point guard and don’t mind if he might stink


A better real-life player than where he appears on this list, Dudley finds himself in a bit of a logjam in Phoenix, competing with minutes at the 3 and 4 with TJ Warren, PJ Tucker and rookie wonderboys Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. Dudley will probably end up starting at the 4, but depending on how fast the Suns go into tank mode, he runs the risk of shrinking into the Kevin Garnett “coach on the bench” role. Dudley will be a great pickup if he maintains consistent minutes.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Contenders looking for a cheapish bench option, Prospectors hoping to pick him up and flip him early


Utah liked Mack enough to get rid of Trey Burke to create more playing time for him, which I guess isn’t saying much because Trey Burke stinks and they basically gave him away for free. Mack figures to slot in as the backup point guard behind George Hill, ahead of the maybe-still-promising Dante Exum, who missed all of last year and wasn’t good as a rookie, and Raul Neto, who is a neat offensive player but defensively you might as well just put a pair of his sneakers there instead of him actually guarding people. Mack is a blazing quick point guard who played really, really well from a fantasy perspective when he got the lion’s share of ballhandling duty for the injury-addled Jazz at the end of last season. He would rank a lot higher on this list if Utah had fewer point guards. Hill is essentially a perfect fit at point for this team, so Mack’s minutes will probably be handed out sparingly. Plus, the Jazz will want to throw Exum out there plenty just to see if he can ever warrant being the #3 pick.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Any team that needs a point guard


Damn is that a bigass head.
Damn is that a bigass head.
I think Jerryd Bayless pretty much stinks as a basketball player, yet he’s also somehow underrated. But for now, he’s the only point guard that Philly has outside of undrafted scrubs TJ McConnell and Cat Barber. That means he’s going to play a lot of minutes. It also means he’s going to be basically the only guy who can pass the ball in any given possession besides Ben Simmons, so that means plenty of assists. Whether or not he can cash in on this golden fantasy opportunity remains to be seen, because, like I said, he ain’t that good. His three-point shot is very inconsistent and he’s always struggled when asked to be the primary distributor. Bayless’ potential lies exclusively in the fact that he’s the lone point guard this team really has, not in his ability as a basketball player. But, in fantasy, minutes are usually more important than skill level.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Any team that needs a point guard, but only for one season until Philly drafts a real point guard next summer


David West is going to make a real difference for some team this year, I am absolutely sure of it. First off, he’s gonna be mad about not winning a ring with the Spurs. Second, he’s going to take all of Speight’s minutes as that scoring big off the bench. Third, he’s going to get even more minutes than that because he can actually play defense, he’s a veteran presence on a deceivingly young Warriors team and the only other options are the goofily named James Michael McAdoo and Kevon Looney. West is going to be asked to do a lot defensively off the bench, but when he plays with any two of Steph, Klay and Durant, he’s going to get some wide open looks and we all know he loves that midrange J. West is someone to watch in this new scenario.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Contenders that need that one more piece for this season


The latest “next up” guy in the “one more season” Spurs oldies rotation, Ginobili can still contribute even at age 47. Manu is one of the smartest basketball players ever and getting to see him play with Pau Gasol, even in their advanced age, will be a thing of beauty this year. We all know what Manu does for a basketball team. For a fantasy team, I think he will still offer a lot in terms of points, assists, steals and threes. Teams should not shy away from a one-year (or two-year? three-year?) rental.
POSSIBLE DESTINATIONS: Smart contending teams

Real Deal Report: Conference Finals

We had another great week last week. Is it just me, or are these playoffs a lot more exciting than last year’s? Let’s review:



1 Atlanta def. 5. Charlotte
It was a valiant effort by the Hornets, but at the end of the day it’s always appeared likely that nobody in the East would be able to take down the Hawks. What else can you say from a starting lineup that requires zero rotation and has only one weak spot? Charlotte heads into the offseason with its head held high – but still, it must figure out its cap situation. The team was able to squeak by, and the cap will rise during the summer, but Charlotte will still be looming dangerously close to the cap.

7. Indiana def. 3. Toronto
The Pacers are legit. They also had seven more games than the Raptors did. But they’re legit.



1 Golden State def. 5 Phoenix
All year, and at the beginning of the playoffs, the question about the Suns was whether or not they’d be able to overcome their relative lack of talent beyond the backcourt. That question was answered last week. The Warriors continue to roll, backed by a 240-point (!!!) week from Curry.

2. San Antonio def. 6. Sacramento
So much for the matchup of the century. Both teams were scorching hot coming in, but the Kings kind of just underperformed here, putting up the second worst score in the second round. There are some glaring weaknesses on the Sacramento roster that were successfully masked all season, but that will have to be addressed in the summer if the Kings want to make the jump to the next level. The Spurs, meanwhile, continue their red hot streak. Taking them down will be a tall order.




1 Golden State vs. 2. San Antonio
I think this was the matchup we all saw coming, but now that it’s here, things have changed. The Warriors have been kings all season, but the Spurs have looked unstoppable for about two months now. Owners of the longest winning streak in the league, the Spurs have been getting unbelievable output from Drummond, Towns and Kawhi and even some help from minor players too. But Kawhi has a nagging injury and Pop loves resting people at this point in the season. Weak efforts from the Holiday brothers are also a cause from concern. Is now the time for the secret weapon, Kobe Bryant? My gut has been saying San Antonio will win the championship for a few weeks. But now, I’m less convinced. The Warriors are still the best team in Real Deal to me, and their performance thus far in the playoffs backs it up. Golden State has its issues, but right now they look both deeper and better at the top (read: Curry). I’m picking Golden State to get to the finals.


1 Atlanta vs. 7. Indiana
Exciting! The underdog versus the top dog. The perennial favorite versus the up-and-comer. The established versus the rapid rebuild. In my totally biased opinion, I’ll be rooting for the Pacers because a. It’s exciting and b. I can’t imagine the seller’s remorse of having walked away from the Hawks just for them to walk into a championship the next season. Despite all that, I am going to pick Atlanta to win. They’re just better. Indiana will have its chances for years to come with that young core, but now is Atlanta’s time.

Real Deal Report: Conference Semi-finals

Wow, what a first round! We had nail-biters, upsets, come from behind victories – just about everything you could realistically hope for. Let’s review:




1. Golden State def. 8. New Orleans

I gotta say, this was a better matchup than I, the eternal Pelicans optimist, was expecting. Propelled by the big three of Davis, Kyrie and LMA, New Orleans hung in there all the way and even lead early in the week. But that Curry-Thompson duo was just too much to handle.


2. San Antonio def. 7. Memphis

Things went pretty much according to plan here. Memphis would’ve stood a better chance at full strength, but it’s hard to win a playoff series when your highest scorer is Jeff Green. The Spurs looked great, getting expected brilliant performances from Drummond, Kawhi, and Towns, while Jrue Holiday and Gorgui Dieng were also terrific, ensuring an easy win for San Antonio.


6. Sacramento def. 3. Utah

I expected the Kings to win, but I did not expect them to be as much of a force as they were this week. Sacramento was one of the best teams in the opening round. A great week from Boogie, Dirk and co. The Kings will hope for a bit more from a healthy Beal/Wade backcourt, but when you get 100+ points in a week from both Matt Barnes and Jason Smith, of all people, you can consider yourself a bit lucky. But the Kings grabbed a big lead early and never let go. The West was just too tough for Utah to really break ground this year – they were one of only six teams to score over 1,000 points last week and the only one who did so that didn’t advance – but the Jazz will be an interesting squad going forth.


4. Phoenix def. 5. Houston

Ok, the Suns are a serious title threat. There were some question marks about this team all season: Are they deep enough? How far get they get with mediocre frontcourt play? But when Russell Westbrook drops you 257 points, some of those questions start to fade away. He remains the most dangerous player in the league until further notice, as he vaulted Phoenix to the highest first round score and laid waste to a Rockets team that got a lot from James Harden, but basically nothing from anyone else.




1 Atlanta def. 8. Milwaukee

No surprise here, although the Bucks did look a bit threatening earlier in the week. The eight-headed attack of a well-balanced Hawks team is going to give everyone else it faces a lot of trouble.


7. Indiana def. 2. Cleveland

Whoa! Was anyone expecting this? Definitely not me. LeBron and Dray were both very good, as expected, and Melo was good when he played, but Cleveland’s problem continues to be that the supporting cast just lacks talent. The Cavs now need to take a hard look at their future. How long can they keep it going with LeBron and Melo as the marquee players? Markieff is going to have to be a difference maker for this team, which has no first round picks until 2018 and the rest of the division is breathing down their throats. Is Indiana’s defeat over the division title winner a sign of the changing of the tide? Interesting stuff to ponder here in a division that, in the end, turned out to be a lot more interesting than I thought.


3. Toronto def. 6. Orlando

Well, I was dead wrong. Not only did the Raptors beat Orlando, but they beat Orlando BAD. Like, they doubled up on them and them some bad. While not a huge shock, this is definitely a boost for Toronto and a disappointment for Orlando, which now finds itself in the midst of what seems to be a carefully thought-out transition period. There are several amnesty candidates this summer, and the Magic own the coveted Boston pick in the fall. The question becomes how they can turn that pick, Vucevic, Greg Monroe and what’s left of Pau Gasol into a title contender again like they were a year ago. Toronto, meanwhile, moves on with its head held high in what so far has been the hands-down greatest accomplishment by any team from the Atlantic Division.


5. Charlotte def. 4. Chicago
Wow, man. What a game. By far the most intriguing matchup that saw things go right down to the wire; the final score separated these two great teams by just TEN POINTS! Kemba Walker continues to be a dominant force, and Enes Kanter is at least good on fantasy teams if not in real life. This was just a punch-for-punch slugfest, start to finish. For every Whiteside double-double, Al Jefferson answered with a 21 and 10 game. For every dime dropped by Ricky Rubio, there was a 20-point game from Avery Bradley or a 15 and 10 stat line from Kent Bazemore. Neither team deserved to go home, but I tip my hat to the Hornets.


Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to my picks for this week!



1 Atlanta vs. 5. Charlotte

The best thing that happened for the Hawks this week was that the Cavs and Bulls, likely their two greatest threats to a trip to the finals, were both booted. On the other side of the coin, though, how dangerous are these new contenders? Charlotte has been a team that had exceeded expectations and defied odds all year long; what’s to stop them now? Truth be told, I wouldn’t be too comfortable if I were Atlanta – and that’s the first time I’ve said that all season. The Hornets weren’t too far away from the Hawks’ score last week. But, on the other hand, Atlanta did smack down Charlotte by almost 200 points in the last week of the regular season. I’ll take Atlanta here, but I think it’ll be close.


7. Indiana vs. 3. Toronto

Which team is breathing a sigh of relief here? The Pacers, because now they face the Raptors instead of the previously highly-regarded Magic? Or Toronto, because they get to avoid the big three of LeBron, Green and Melo? I am pretty excited for this battle. On one side, you have Toronto, who has coasted for two years, facing no competition for the division title and automatic high seed, and who has suddenly been snapped into reality, and who has so far lived up to it. On the other side, you have Indiana, whose rebuild from nothing plan has accelerated much faster than I think even they themselves could have hoped for, and whose young players – led by the 2014 draft class of Jabari Parker, Zach LaVine and Gary Harris – are really starting to gel. And, you know, despite building up this matchup like I have so far, I really think it’s going to be Indiana in a landslide. This team has been red-hot of late, and they put up the third best point total of all 16 playoff teams, behind only Phoenix and Sacramento. And if you take a look at the regular season standings, you’ll find that Indy finished in 10th place for total points scored. Where’d Toronto finish? 17th – in the bottom half of the league just ahead of Miami, Dallas and the Lakers. Sorry, Raptors, still no love in my predictions.




1 Golden State vs. 4. Phoenix
Ok, these two are actually really tough to pick. Two phenomenal matchups in the West here. Golden State has been one of the very top teams all season, and Phoenix has been super hot lately. The Suns had the second highest scoring total last week, and, on a somewhat low profile, are in the top four scoring teams all season. But until it’s proven otherwise, Golden State has been the best team in the West. As long as Curry and Thompson play, there’s really no rational reason to pick against this team until further notice. Phoenix started off great and finished the season on a tear, but the Warriors have consistently been on the top the whole way. Last week’s scoring total is a bit of a concern (they would have lost to six other teams if they played them last week), making me think that it’ll be a close matchup here, but when push comes to shove it’s just too difficult to pick against Golden State.


2. San Antonio vs. 6. Sacramento
Another terrific series here. You’ve got two prolific teams whose owners have carefully and decisively rebuilt their rosters over the course of a year. The Spurs ended last year with Kawhi Leonard, the first overall pick and not much else. The Kings were clinging to Boogie and a bunch of washed up vets. Now look at them! Two behemoths! Riddled with superstars! Kawhi, Towns and Drummond versus Boogie, Dirk, Wade and Beal. I really think this is going to be a matchup for the ages, and potentially the most exciting one of the playoffs. Two great teams whose owners have done a terrific job of not only keeping/making their teams relevant, but also of transforming them into championship-worthy squads. Whoever advances out of this round will really deserve it, because this matchup is all-out war. This is the most difficult pick of the playoffs so far. I think Sacramento has more momentum (they had the best score in the playoffs last week) and might be a little deeper at the top of the roster than the Spurs, but the starpower of San Antonio’s big three might be too unstoppable. Kawhi, Towns and Drummond have all been averaging better than 50 points per game over the last month, and the “little three” of Jrue Holiday, Gorgui Dieng and Evan Turner have also been terrific of late. I’m picking the Spurs here.

Real Deal Dynasty Basketball Report: Playoffs, Round One

The playoffs are finally here! Congratulations to the 16 entrants, and boo hoo hoo to the rest of us, who are now eagerly awaiting the lottery drawing (well, most of us are).

The playoffs are a time of action, and not a time for drawn-out preamble. So without further ado, here are the first round matchups, along with my picks!
The Bucks draw the short straw here, losing out on a three-way tiebreaker with Orlando and division rival Indiana. Although, one could say they’re lucky to be here; an illegal roster dropped Miami out of the playoff picture and created this space for them. Atlanta has been the best team all season long – they and Golden State are the only teams who broke the 40,000-point mark this season – and there’s no reason to think that will change. The Hawks have avoided injury, miraculously, all season, and if they can avoid it for one more month, they might have a title on their hands. Let the good times roll…
Indy was my outside shot team that might make noise in the playoffs this year, but I just think the Cavs are too strong. That forward trio of LeBron, Draymond and Carmelo continues to just steamroll teams. Indiana has the brightest young roster in the league, but I think they’re probably still a couple of years away from being a legit contender. I’ll pick Cleveland safely here.
The sixth seed is once again the best seat in the house because it means a chance to go against the Raptors, who repeat as Atlantic Division champs by virtue of being not garbage. I do think the Raptors are better than they were last year, and they are probably better than the amount of crap I give them reflects, but Orlando is just better – and the numbers back it up. Not only have the Magic scored more points than Toronot, but they’ve played a much tougher schedule and face actual competition within their division – from every team. Toronto, in fact, has had by far the easiest schedule in the league, with only 30,000 points scored against them. Zach Randolph is a nice boost, and Orlando will be missing Oladipo and Kobe right about now, but that big three of Pau, Vuc and Monroe should be enough to get the Magic by, just barely, if they play.
You know, I really gotta give it up to the Hornets here (yes, again). I picked them to be dead last in the division, but they ended up in second place and were good enough this year to win a lot of the other five divisions in the league. That said, I think the edge here goes to Chicago, another team I’ve been praising all year long. This team has been just awesome lately, and they’re my best bet to challenge Atlanta for the conference title. Every player, from Whiteside to Wiggins to Rubio all the way down to Lance Stephenson, has just been clicking lately. This is a high-octane team. Charlotte has a lot to be proud of, but at the end of the day, I gotta go with the Bulls.
I gotta say, it was more of a nailbiter than I expected for the final spot in the West. New Orleans all but had it wrapped up, but I was willing to sniff at Dallas and the Lakers just because they weren’t mathematically eliminated. Lo and behold, all three teams go 1-2 in the final action of the regular season so none of it matters anyway. On the wings of Davis, Irving and Aldridge, the Pelicans have finally locked up a playoff spot – but against the best team I think this league is going to see in these playoffs. The Warriors have just been too good lately, and I am not picking against them until further notice. They were my preseason favorites, and I’m probably going to stick to my guns in making my picks going forward. Sadly it’ll be back to the drawing board for New Orleans, but all of that cap space, those injured players in waiting and those draft picks should help nurse the wounds.
This is probably the easiest pick in the first round, and it’s not for happy reasons. The poor Grizzlies have suffered critical injuries to just about every important player it had this season, and they basically have no chance against the red hot behemoth Spurs, led by Drummond, Kawhi and rookie sensation Karl Towns, aka the next Tim Duncan (but maybe better?!). Not much more to say here, but I do plan to talk more about the Spurs in round two.
Sacramento is ready for the playoffs. Bringing in Beal and Wade makes this Kings team something of a juggernaut, and I think it’s likely that they absolutely roll over the Jazz, who closed out the second half strong to win the Northwest. Utah has a very nice team and is poised for continued success in their division, but Sacramento just looks like too powerful a foe. Boogie, Dirk, Wade, Gay, Beal – that team is just too deep to go home in the first round. Plus, Alec Burks might be coming back. The Kings seem to have benefitted the most from last-minute finaglings.
Houston is kind of a tough team to figure out. Sure, they have the resplendent James Harden, who is quietly the second-best scorer in basketball, but what else? Barnes and Matthews are pretty good. Noah and Ezeli were pretty good, but they’re hurt. And Deron Williams is somehow pretty good, too. I don’t know about these Rockets. But then again, they did win 56 games. Phoenix isn’t exactly chuck-loaded with talented depth, either, but that backcourt trio of Westbrook, IT and Knight is fantastic. What gives Phoenix the edge here is that several players – Deng, Ed Davis, E’Twaun Moore (yeah, seriously) and others – are overperforming. That matters in the playoffs, and it’s enough in my opinion to unseat last season’s Western champs.
So those are my picks! What are yours?