Four-Point Play

The Zion Williamson Draft
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The Zion Williamson Draft will be forevermore remembered as the blueprint on how to build a team around an 18-year-old icon who only comes around a few times a decade, much like Shaq-Kobe-Timmy in the ’90s, LeBron-KD-Steph in the ’00s, et cetera.

Lesson 1: Keep a sage veteran by his side at all times.

That is Jrue Holiday’s role in this whole thing. The unsung point guard has long been one of the NBA’s best leaders and if Williamson is going to heed counsel from a veteran on the team, it is best that it be done by a selfless standout who gives his team his all on defense, on offense and off the court as well. The 29-year-old Holiday will be to Williamson, who turns 19 next month, what San Antonio Spur veteran David Robinson was to 21-year-old Tim Duncan more than two decades ago. Many teams approached the Pelicans with lukewarm offers to acquire Holiday, thinking the Pelicans may be clearing salary space for the future. Credit Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin for calling Holiday–not Zion–“the face of the franchise” and resisting the urge to purge all the old Pelicans, especially a foundational leader like Holiday.

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Lesson 2: Parlay your picks to more picks; surround your special prospect with many fellow prospects to keep him company and competing as they grow.

When Griffin dealt disgruntled superstar Anthony Davis to the Lakers for 21-year-olds Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and 24-year-old Josh Hart, the NOLA VPBO also made sure to acquire future first-rounders and swaps through four of the next five drafts. Griffin then in turn, spun his No. 4 pick in a trade to Atlanta for the Nos. 8, 17 and 35 picks, netting the Pelicans an athletic rookie center (Jaxson Hayes) to groom with his athletic power forward Williamson, along with talented rookie wings Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Marcos Louzada Silva. Griffin also picked up the cheap $1.7 million team option on resurrected 23-year-old center Jahlil Okafor, who is in tremendous shape this summer. Keeping young talents like Ball, Hart, Ingram, Okafor and the draft rooks will only make a youngster like Williamson happier, as they grown their team together.

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Lesson 3: Clear all dead weight from the squad.

Yes, even Anthony Davis could be considered dead weight if his get-me-traded act was going to be the apple to spoil the bunch. So by getting rid of Davis’ negativity and upgrading on everything else around—from the front office to the training staff—Williamson comes into a new culture that is putting its best foot forward. Furthermore, by using the Hawks’ desire to move up in the draft against them, the Pelicans were able to dump Solomon Hill’s $12.8 million contract on Atlanta, which in turn gives Griffin $31 million in cap space to use in summer free agency. Should the Pelicans lure a middle-max free agent to New Orleans to play with Williamson, Holiday and the new PeliLakers, excavators can trace the steps back to this date.

After all, this is the Zion draft, starring Zion’s team, with Zion front and center.

But Holiday is still the face because head coach Alvin Gentry is not going to put too much pressure on the Williamson. And this is a Gentry team, backed by a tent pole that definitely is a David Griffin Production.

The 2019 NBA Draft Q&A

Ask me a question about the draft. Any question.

Who do you think was the best player in the draft?

Next question.

Who got the steal of the draft?

Tie. Between Memphis getting Brandon Clarke at No. 21 or Boston getting Grant Williams the next pick at No. 22. I think both of these power forwards—as diverse as they are—will become future All-Stars and had them ranked second and third on my draft board entering today.

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Who was the second-round steal of the draft?

Time will tell if Bol Bol can reach his potential, but I commend the Denver Nuggets for taking a chance at No. 44 on a giant talent, even if Bol does come with injury and work ethic concerns.

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Who are the question marks of this draft?

I do not want to say the point guards are overrated by any means. I prefer to say the phrase “unproven at this point.” That said, I was genuinely surprised there were three point guards that were taken with the first seven picks in the 2019 NBA Draft. Granted, Ja Morant, Darius Garland and Coby White are talented and worked out great, but they all came with question marks. Morant was phenomenal against weak competition. Garland, the draft’s No. 5 pick, was good but not great in the five games he played before suffering a season-ending knee injury at Vanderbilt. As for Coby White at No. 7, again I think the Bulls overshot the pick. Granted, White is a volume scorer, but I just do not sense he is the point guard the young Bulls need at this time. White is a shoot-first guard on a team of youngsters all looking to get their shots. Plus, White did not play much at North Carolina, whose talent level—as great as it may be—still does not equal Chicago’s NBA team.

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Which team had the best draft?

Obviously, New Orleans. Williamson alone would make them No. 1, but add center Jaxson Hayes, who was No. 12 on my NBAge Prospect Rankings 2019, and it’s a wrap. The second-best draft is a trickier proposition, but I am going to go with Memphis. The Grizzlies landed point guard Morant with the No. 2 pick and also landed power forward Clarke, who was No. 2 on my list. The Grizzlies got Clarke with the 21st pick, giving the Grit ‘n Grind franchise three future All-Defense frontliners in Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson.

LeBron and A.D. … and Who Else?

When the New Orleans Pelicans traded the No. 4 pick it had acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Atlanta Hawks Thursday at the 2019 NBA Draft, it basically signaled that the blockbuster Anthony Davis trade was being finalized and would be consummated July 6, and not July 30, as previously considered.

Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed as much, when he reported Thursday night …

Translation: whatever options the Lakers had of pursuing a super-max deal with summer free agents are now over, according to Woj’s tweet.

There is, however, a pathway to a middle-max deal being completed by the Lakers, but any hopes of using a July 30 deadline to maneuver loopholes in the salary cap are now dismissed with Woj’s Thursday tweet.

That shipped sailed, according to Wojnarowski, when the Hawks acquired the Lakers’ No. 4 pick via the Pelicans in Thursday’s draft. The Hawks then had Griffin call Pelinka to use the choice on forward De’Andre Hunter, who will immediately sign a rookie contract July 1 and not be dealt subsequently in any manner to benefit the Lakers.

This is something Griffin and Pelinka previously agreed upon, should a draft-day deal become desirable by New Orleans.

Had the Pelicans kept the fourth pick, then the July 30 option could remain open and the Lakers could hold out hopes of signing a super-max free agent, should they be so lucky to lure one.

Now, the Hawks will sign Hunter and play him in Summer League.

Now that that is over with, what are L.A.’s options now in using remaining cap space to sign a top free agent?

Glad you asked.

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If the Lakers want to pursue a middle-max free agent like Nikola Vucevic or Kemba Walker or someone of that ilk, they can clear all the contracts off the books, with the exception of LeBron James ($37.4 million), Kyle Kuzma ($2.0 million) and convince Davis ($27.1 million) to not enact his 15-percent trade kicker. That, in turn, would give the Lakers a subtotal payroll of $71.5 million when you also factor in Luol Deng’s dead-cap $5 million. Add in the requisite players to a 12-man roster with eight more minimums at $900,000-ish apiece, and the additional $7.2 million brings your subtotal up to $78.7 million, leaving the Lakers $30.3 million under the estimated $109 million salary cap, which will be made official July 1. Granted, the Lakers fall a bit short of the $32.7 middle-max season-entry fee, but they aren’t too far off. And if it takes cutting Kuzma to convince Walker, Vooch or whoever else to sign, the Lakers may do it, bringing their first-year offer to $32.3 million.

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If, however, Davis is not on board with waiving his 15-percent trade kicker, then there is no option for L.A. to pursue even a middle-max contract. For all intents and purposes, let us now just assume the Lakers new payroll will consist of LeBron ($37.4 million), A.D. ($31.2M) and Kuzma ($2M), in addition to $5 million dead cap and seven minimums at $900,000-ish apiece. That makes the new subtotal $81.9 million, leaving L.A. $27.1 million under the new cap. If the Lakers want to split up their cap space among guards and go with a frontline of LeBron, A.D. and Kuzma, they are well equipped to do so. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka very well could use that cap space and team exceptions to pursue restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon and unrestricted free agent Seth Curry, the two best young shooters on the market. The bonus of starting alongside two perennial All-NBA superstars should be enticing at the very least.

How good would this 2020 Lakers team be?

Well, let’s just say L.A.’s core trio is probably set to give the Lakers a foundation minimum of 35.62 wins, if my Efficient Plus-Minus metrics are of good measure.

Add in Brogdon (estimated +3 EPM) and Curry (estimated 0 EPM) at 2,000 minutes apiece, and they likely would net you another eight and four was, respectively. That’s a subtotal of nearly 44 wins right there for the Lakers’ starting five alone. And we have not even got to the remaining 8,000 bench minutes of reserve acquisitions to be had. This is easily a 50-plus win team we have here.

 Lakers Core 4?  2-Year Average  EPM  Minutes  EPM Wins
 LeBron James  2018-19 & 2017-18  +6.09 & +7.16  1937 & 3026  10.62 & 18.43
 Anthony Davis  2017-18 & 2016-17  +8.28 & +6.98  2727 & 2708  18.35 & 16.21
 Kyle Kuzma  2018-19 & 2017-18  -0.53 & -0.80  2314 & 2401  3.93 & 3.70
 Total Average  7,556.5  35.62
Key: EPM Efficient Plus-Minus


Jazzed Up

Everybody around the League is jazzed about the Mike Conley deal because it gives the NBA’s most plain organization a pizzazz that has always been lacking in Utah.

Imagine playmakers Conley and Donovan Mitchell alternating possessions quarterbacking a high-powered offense, while rim protectors Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors do likewise for an elite defense.

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Mix in some Joe Ingles for some intermittent threes for good splashing, and one may soon discover the League’s most fun team indeed may dwell in Salt Lake City next season.

Better yet, it is a team of stars who really are unrecognized stars because none of them has ever played in an NBA All-Star Game.

And head coach Quin Snyder very well may open the 2019-20 season as the head coach of the favorites to win the 2020 NBA championship.

Go figure.

Credit Utah Jazz vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey for pulling the trigger on a point guard who turns 32 in October and makes $67 million over the next two seasons.

Only in this case, Lindsey’s Jazz team is maximizing its cap space and can afford Conley’s luxuries, especially as a significant upgrade over serviceable veteran Ricky Rubio, who is a free agent this summer (Rubio had a +0.33 Efficient Plus-Minus score in 2018-19; Conley, +3.64 EPM).

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With Utah able to afford the cost, the Jazz was able to swing the deal without much loss, only giving up three subs and two late first-round picks to get the deal done (tonight’s 23rd draft pick and a protected 2020 first-rounder).

The Jazz shipped off the team’s fifth, eighth and 13th most-used players, as far as 2018-19 minutes go, only losing subs Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver and seldom-used rookie Grayson Allen.

Utah likely will replace them with qualified third-stringers Raul Neto, Dante Exum and Georges Niang, elevating the young vets to second-string status to play alongside ace 3-and-D wing off the bench Royce O’Neale.

Granted, it has been years since the 27-year-old Neto or 23-year-old Exum has played 1,000-plus minutes—and 26-year-old Niang never has—but I believe these subs are up for the task.

As for the starters, Utah very well may have the best lineup in the West, with each starter ranking in the top 10 at their position as long as Utah re-signs free agent at the starting power forward/backup center position.

Favors, a summer free agent, still has to re-sign to make the aforementioned a reality. But as long as his price is not too high, expect him back and expect Utah to experience a 1990s renaissance, my friend.