2017 NBA Mock Draft: Lottery Edition

Mock drafts are always a fun exercise. You get to be the GM for every team in the league, without any actual knowledge of these front offices. This includes the joy of researching each team, trying to their determine key players, and identifying areas they could improve. The real fun though, is researching the prospects. There are some talented prospects in this class, with more than enough to fill out the first round with rotational players if not starters.

I have no inside information, outside of the tidbits I find during player and team research, so all of these draft choices are based on the thoughts and opinions of yours truly. And I’m not doing trades because the Knicks would end up with the #1 pick for Carmelo and a bag of rocks cause Markelle Fultz is that damn good.

  1. Boston Celtics – 53-29, 1st in the east, Lost 1-4 ECF to Cavs

Key Players: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk

Free Agents: James Young, Gerald Green, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk

Positions of Interest: Athletic Big, Scoring Guard

Boston was young team buoyed by the greatness of Isaiah Thomas but realized quickly that Isaiah Thomas is not good enough to get past LeBron James and the Cavs. The big question here is do they trade their assets in an attempt to get past LeBron or do they wait him out with Jaylen Brown and their next 2, top-5 picks. I agree with the sentiment that these rookies won’t be the piece to get them over the hump but with their current roster construction, will mortgaging assets for Paul George or Jimmy Butler leave their roster with enough to get past LeBron? I say take the best player available and continue to develop this roster. As the young players improve, the team will improve. A 53-win team with a #1 overall pick is a dangerous proposition. Adding Markelle Fultz, the consensus #1 player, will give this team even more backcourt depth and flexibility with Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas. With the trio of Smart/Bradley/Thomas up for free agency in the summer of 2018, adding Fultz also gives you an insurance policy if not an outright upgrade at the guard position.

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Sean M. Haffey – Getty Images
  1. Los Angeles Lakers – 26-56, 14th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle

Free Agents: Metta World Peace, Tyler Ennis, Thomas Robinson, Nick Young

Positions of Interest: Athletic Center, Playmaking Wing

Los Angeles is another young team however, they were not buoyed by veteran excellence. Instead, they were hamstrung by their veterans, Loul Deng and Timofey Mozgov. In the future, their minutes should be distributed to younger, more promising talent in Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr and Ivica Zubac. The clearly upgradeable roster spot for LA is center. Distributing minutes to Tarik Black, Ivica Zubac and Timofey Mozgov isn’t what you want to do going into the season. The problem for the Lakers is there is not a center prospect worth a top-5 pick in this draft. If Demarcus Cousins was still available that would be in serious play in this spot but since he isn’t, the Lakers decide to upgrade their backcourt with Lonzo Ball. He can slide into the PG spot next to D’Angelo Russell and allow Russell to take a more natural role as a combo, scoring guard. Lonzo will give LA a young, 3-headed monster at guard and the most important skill he should provide is unselfishness. The Lakers have plenty of projected finishers. Between Clarkson, Russell, Ingram and Randle, LA has enough prospects that hunt for their own shot. LA needs more playmakers to allow Luke Walton to successfully employ his pace and space offense.

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Josh Jackson (Getty Images)
  1. Philadelphia 76ers – 28-54, 14th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Robert Covington

Free Agents: Alex Poythress, Sergio Rodriguez, Tiago Splitter

Positions of Interest: Shooter, PG, Athletic Wing

Philadelphia is in a weird place. With Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid and Robert Covington, not to mention Jahlil Okafor, the frontcourt is STACKED with prospects. However, Embiid has played 31 games in his first 3 seasons (regardless of how awesome those 31 games were), Ben Simmons missed his entire rookie season, and Okafor sucks and was born 20 years too late to succeed in the NBA. The backcourt is comprised of Nik Stauskas, TJ McConnell, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson. Literally any of the guard prospects would be upgrades over this crop of talent but their roster is still really weirdly constructed so it’s not as easy as picking the best guard available. With rumors of Ben Simmons initiating the offense, the need for a traditional PG wanes a bit. This brings in to picture 3 different options: Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox. If I am Philly, I take Josh Jackson. The defensive versatility, playmaking ability and size that Josh Jackson brings will allow you to get creative with your lineups. Imagine a lineup including Simmons, Jackson, Saric, Covington and Embiid. The length, size and playmaking ability on the court will be difficult to deal with. If Embiid picks up where he left off defensively, then he and Jackson can make a dynamic inside, outside defensive duo and more than make up for teammate defensive liabilities. The issue Jackson creates is a lack of shooting but I think that’s better addressed in free agency.

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Jayson Tatum (Mark Dolejs – USA TODAY Sports)
  1. Phoenix Suns – 24-58, 15th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Tyler Ulis, Jared Dudley

Free Agents: Alex Len, Alan Williams, Ronnie Price

Positions of Interest: Athletic Wing with Size

Phoenix is in an interesting place. They drafted Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss in the top-10 last season to be their big men of the future. Eric Bledsoe, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker make up their backcourt of the future (Bledsoe more present than future but I digress). Jared Dudley provides great wing depth but Phoenix has to be dying to get an athletic, playmaking wing to facilitate and play defense while Booker, Bledsoe and their young big men do the bulk of the scoring. This would be the perfect spot for Josh Jackson but Philly got the luck of the draw there. The consolation prize: Jayson Tatum. He’s the only other top tier small forward in this draft and unless they’re willing to take a minor step back trading Eric Bledsoe, to acquire another athletic Kentucky PG, he’s the only option available.  If Eric Bledsoe can become a more willing playmaker, a Booker-Tatum offense pairing could be extremely dynamic. The only question will be can they defend any NBA-level wing, on any court anywhere.

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De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk (Troy Taormina – USA TODAY Sports)
  1. Sacramento Kings – 32-50, 12th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Buddy Hield, Willy Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere

Free Agents: Darren Collinson, Ty Lawson, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Tyreke Evans

Positions of Interest: PG, SF

Sacramento has a sneaky good future. With Rudy Gay, Tyreke Evans, Darren Collinson and Ty Lawson all coming off the books and two top-10 picks in this draft, this team is in a great place. However, because of the young investments on the roster at the center position (Willy Cauley-Stein/Georgios Papagiannis) they don’t have the luxury of back-to-back “best player available” selections. Instead they take the best player at 5, and attack either the PG or SF position on the second time around at 10. Sacramento should sprint to the podium to secure De’Aaron Fox as Buddy Hield’s backcourt running mate of the future. This allows De’Aaron to have his NBA Malik Monk and Buddy Hield gets a primary ball handler, facilitator and defender. De’Aaron won’t be able to immediately guard the opposing team’s best guard but that will surely be one his larger roles as his body matures. With Fox orchestrating an offense including Hield’s shooting, Cauley-Stein’s athleticism and Papagiannis’s… whatever he brings, this team could be good in a few years. However, this is the Sacramento and if anybody could find a way to flush away 2 top-10 picks and a healthy future, it’s the Kings.

  1. Orlando Magic – 29-53, 13th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, uh Nikola Vucevic, maybe Bismack Biyombo

Free Agents: Jodie Meeks, Jeff Green, Damjan Rudez, Patricio Garino

Positions of Interest: Athletic wing, Lead guard

Orlando always seems to be stuck in limbo. Their good luck is often followed by bad luck and over the last few years it has only been bad luck. While I don’t think the Elfrid Payton experience has worked, it’s worth another year to maximize the tank for 2017-18 (Michael Porter Jr and Aaron Gordon deserve to be together). Honestly, the entire roster is available for turnover aside from Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier (and I guess Bismack…). This is a team that has consistently drafted terribly and traded 1 of their 2 productive draft picks for Serge Ibaka, who was then traded for Terrence Ross… who is kind of like Victor Oladipo except not as good. They should honestly just take the best player available and continue listening to offers for every player on this roster. And don’t crowd that forward spot up too much. Michael Porter Jr, here we come. This year’s pick should be Malik Monk. He gives them a moveable offensive piece that immediately fills Jodie Meeks vacated role. He or Fournier could potentially run point against sub units that would give you a solid 1-2 punch without begin too much of a defensive liability. Plus imagine the in-game dunk-offs between him and Aaron Gordon.

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Jonathan Isaac (Melina Vastola – USA TODAY Sports)
  1. Minnesota Timberwolves – 31-51, 13th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Karl Friggan Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine

Free Agents: Brandon Rush, Shabazz Muhammed, Omri Casspi, Adreian Payne

Positions of Interest: Shooting, Athletic PF

This is a match made in basketball heaven. If Jonathan Isaac makes it to 7, Minnesota will pounce and could boast a devastating collection of youth and athleticism. Karl Friggan Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine are an embarrassment of riches as is but throw in a 6’11 forward with a solid 7’1 wingspan and elite defensive instincts. Also pair him with an alien 7-footer that can destroy teams offensively but is still learning the finite details on defense. Throw in a couple of uber athletic wings with damn near 7-foot wingspans that have some defensive lapses every now and again but can fill it up from anywhere on offense. And top it off with a 6’4 bulldog at point with elite athleticism and solid defensive instincts and that concoction is a team that should be in the playoffs next year, regardless of coaching. I could take over opening night and should be able to win 48 games with this roster. Karl Towns will be the best center in the league next year. LaVine and Wiggins should push each other for that sidekick spot next to KAT, which could also lead to their detriment but with 2 defensive stoppers playing alongside, there should be enough shots to go around. If you can move a possibly disgruntled Rubio and add a couple of veterans to fill out the roster, this team could be in contention for the Northwest division crown. If not, then everything not initialed KFAT may be for sale to the highest bidder. I believe more in the former. Fool me once, shame on me. But fool me twice Minnesota… just know that my wrath is far-reaching.

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Dennis Smith Jr. (Grant Halverson – Getty Images)
  1. New York Knicks – 31-51, 12th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Kristaps Porzingis, Carmelo Anthony, Billy Hernangomez

Free Agents: Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, Sasha Vujacic, Ron Baker

Positions of Interest: Guards, Athletic wings, Athletic big

Ah, MY New York Knicks. Picking 8th overall in the 2017 NBA draft. Could’ve had higher but they love winning the last 3-4 bullshit games at the end of the season to feel better about themselves. No! Lose Dammit! I wanted Markelle Fultz. But alas, I may have to cope with Dennis Smith Jr. which I do not have even the slightest problem doing. He’s the most athletic guard in this draft and will be an immediate boon to Kristaps Porzingis who will finally get a competent running mate. While Dennis’s jumper is a few years away, he has elite explosiveness and quickness, can attack the basket at will and push the break in transition. His downhill mentality on a Kristaps pick-and-pop would be lovely. Him cutting off of backside action while Carmelo operates out of the high post and finishing at the rim. He will bring athleticism to the position that pre-injury Rose could have. His above the rim mentality would make him an immediate fan favorite and the MSG crowd does something to players with swagger. If DSJ can make it in New York, it’ll be exactly what Kristaps and the NYK have needed. With the current roster in place around them, I think explosive and competent PG play could be enough to elevate them to the eight-seed conversation. If New York can trade Melo then this team will be heading toward a top 5 draft lottery finish. If you ask me, almost everyone in NY but Melo would prefer that. Step 1. Draft Dennis Smith Jr 8th overall. Step 2. Trade Carmelo and stay the hell away from the 8th seed.

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Lauri Markkanen (Christian Petersen – Getty Images)
  1. Dallas Mavericks – 33-49, 11th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, Seth Curry

Free Agents: Nerlens Noel

Positions of Interest: Lead guard, Scoring big

With Nerlens Noel enter free agency (Mavs expected to do everything in their power to retain him) the Mavs go into an offseason with only 1 sure thing on their roster: Harrison Barnes at SF. That’s not the best sure thing in the world. Dirk Nowitzki is about to do a retirement tour to celebrate his 20th season in the league. His knees only have so much left to give. They paid Dwight Powell handsomely to be an athletic big off the bench but that doesn’t have any long-term potential. This is a roster full of veterans that needs a rebuild in the worst way. Wesley Matthews will give them 30+ minutes at SG but no one is really happy about it. Seth Curry FINALLY got a job but he always seems to piss someone off and get cut so he’s no sure thing. Do you really want me to start on JJ Barea or Devin Harris, who both were out of the league at various points? Or the other end of the spectrum with Yogi Ferrell and Jarrod Uthoff, who were also out of the league. I didn’t think so. This feels borderline cruel because I’d hate to have to be the tall white guy to replace Dirk but why not draft a tall sharpshooting white guy. Lauri Markkanen will give the team ample shooting to play next to Nerlens in a 4-out, 1-in or a spread pick and roll system. This would also solidify the Mavs frontcourt for the next 4 years, which with Harrison, Nerlens and Markkanen isn’t that bad. In a couple of years, they may be ready to make the playoffs. But first they need to finally crap out, lose 60 games and be in line to draft a PG of the future next year. Something tells me they’re going to sign a 28-year-old PG this offseason. Fuckin’ Mavs

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina
Justin Jackson (Bob Donnan – USA TODAY Sports)
  1. Sacramento Kings – 32-50, 12th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Buddy Hield, Willy Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere, De’Aaron Fox

Free Agents: Darren Collinson, Ty Lawson, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Tyreke Evans

Positions of Interest: SF

Here we go again… Sacramento needs a wing this time around. Wings at this point are slim pickins’ but if Sacramento really wants to run and gun, they should take a flier on Justin Jackson. He’s a scorer, that just what he does. He has a thin frame but he has a solid shooting form and more than enough range to compliment Buddy Hield. Adding Justin Jackson and De’Aaron Fox would give Sacramento a young and dynamic roster moving into the future. The hope is that Jackson can settle into a complimentary role next to Fox and Hield. He’d be the Harrison Barnes to their Steph and Klay… terrible analogy but you get the picture. Sacramento honestly gets shafted by the lack of wing depth here. Luke Kennard is another option but he’s a much greater defensive liability than Jackson. Jackson at least has the wingspan and athleticism to eventually become a neutral defender. If he becomes a prototypical 3&D player (think current form Courtney Lee), Sacramento will be ecstatic about the 2016-17 NBA season and draft. Trading Boogie may have been the first real step toward competitiveness in a long time in Sac-town (god that looks as terrible as it sounds). And this roster would definitely be picking top-5 again next year.

  1. Charlotte Hornets – 36-46, 11th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd Gilchrist, Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky

Free Agents: Brian Roberts

Positions of Interest: Scoring wing, Athletic big

Charlotte is stuck in the middle. After a lackluster follow-up to their 2015-16 playoff team, Charlotte is again fishing in the mid-to-late lottery, praying to hit on a player here or there. Kemba Walker obviously anchors them offensively and plays above expectations on defense. Michael Kidd Gilchrist their defensive anchors at the 3 and if he ever figures out his jumper, will be an exciting contributor for the Hornets. Nicolas Batum had a down season after signing his $100+ million re-up with the Hornets. If he bounces back he can provide consist minutes at either spot on the wing. Frank Kaminsky helps man the middle by committee with Cody Zeller and Miles Plumlee (forming what I like to call the Great White Wall). Marvin Harrison is still living off of his UNC hype and had a decent contract season 2 years ago. Yeah… this roster could use an upgrade just about everywhere. I’d love to see them roll the dice on an athletic wing with scoring potential. Most of the high-end talent is gone by this spot, but a tantalizing prospect is sure to slip through the cracks. Donovan Mitchell fits that exact criteria as a tantalizing athletic wing with scoring potential. He’s 6’3 with a crazy 6’10 wingspan and springs for feet. His game needs some refinement but he adds an instant ball-handler and eventual shot maker. This also allows Batum to take a more natural role as a facilitator and defender while Kaminsky, Mitchell and Kemba handle the brunt of the scoring. This is a potential playoff team with a bounce back season from Batum, so adding Mitchell is a cherry on the potential sundae.

  1. Detroit Pistons – 37-45, 10th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Stanley Johnson, Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson(?)

Free Agents: Beno Udrih, Kentavius Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock

Positions of Interest: Lead guard, Athletic wing

Detroit is trying very badly to trade their two best players, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Well depending on who you ask those are the two best players. The very likely trade is Reggie Jackson, so the bigger need here is a PG. Drummond is a good, young center that Detroit could (*should) be kept in Detroit because athletic 7-footers aren’t as easy to find as you think. However, PGs tend to be a dime a dozen in today’s NBA (unless you’re the Knicks). And because of the depth of PG in this draft, French wunderkind Frank Ntilikina (Knee-La-Key-Na) is available. He’s 6’6, incredibly lanky, can play either guard spot, defend either guard spot and already has a good jumper. IF (really big if here) Frank gets past NYK and Dallas, he should be earmarked for Detroit. Detroit could find immediate minutes for him at either wing spot with Kentavius Caldwell-Pope a restricted free agent and Reggie on the chopping block. He’s not a ball dominant player so he should immediately mesh with Stanley Johnson and Tobias Harris as a supplemental player. Honestly, if Ntilikina had a pinch of athleticism then he’d be a top 3-pick but his methodical pace runs counterculture to the increasing pace of today’s NBA. But at pick 12 Detroit will gladly take a quality two-way wing, capable of sliding between point and shooting guard effectively.

  1. Denver Nuggets – 40-42, 9th in West, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Juan Hernangomez, Kenneth Faried, Gary Harris

Free Agents: Roy Hibbert, Mason Plumlee, Mo Williams

Positions of Interest: Athletic wing, Athletic big

Denver found a diamond in the rough in Nikola Jokic. He was a 2nd round pick in 2015 and has become a triple double machine. As a 7-foot playmaking center, Jokic can put the ball on the deck, pass from anywhere on the court, shoot 3s and has a pretty damn refined post game. Basically, he’s poised to become an offensive dynamo over the coming season. This past season he averaged 17/10/5 on 58% from the field and 32 % from 3. He also posted 6 triple doubles at the tender age of 22. He’s a superstar in the making. His running mate of the future will most likely be Jamal Murray. He’s a confident scoring guard, which works well with Jokic’s passing ability. The young guns are flanked by veteran talents in Jameer Nelson, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, and Kenneth Faried that give the team talent across all positions. Gary Harris and Juan Hernangomez provide Mike Malone with 2 young chest pieces that should continue to develop into solid players. Gary Harris started 56 games last season and averaged 15/3/3 on 50% from the field and 42% from 3. Their team is chocked full of athletic offensive talent but their leader in defensive win shares in the 2017 season, Mason Plumlee, is a free agent. Since Denver acquired him late in the 2017 season, one would believe he will be retained this offseason. I think it’d be foolish to let him walk with an ascending roster that could be playoff ready as soon as 2018. Denver has lots of depth and should take a flier on OG Anunoby. He’d provide Denver an athletic specimen at the wing that will run in transition, finish at the rim and defend the opponents best wing player. Because of Denver’s aforementioned depth, he wouldn’t be expected to play much in 2017 which will allow him optimal time to recover from his left knee injury. He’s also insurance for Wilson Chandler who is sure to opt out of his 2018 player option cause NEW TV MONEY YALL!

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Zach Collins (Greg Nelson – Sports Illustrated)
  1. Miami Heat – 41-41, 9th in East, Missed Playoffs

Key Players: Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson

Free Agents: Chris Bosh, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt, Dion Waiters

Positions of Interest: Shooting, Athletic big

Miami is always in a weird spot because their roster is in constant flux. The only things that feel nailed down are Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson are young pieces that could be dangled for an all-star caliber player or cap space to allow more flexibility in free agency. The team is almost assuredly going to break the bank to bring back James Johnson and Dion Waiters and with Chris Bosh’s contract coming off the books this offseason they will make a play for Blake Griffin or Gordon Heyward. This team could look completely different next season, which makes this pick extremely difficult. But if I’m in this situation, I take best player available and figure it out later. The best player currently available is Zach Collins. The 7-footer from Gonzaga is a pretty polished offensive player, with solid playmaking ability a ripe age of 19. He’s not an amazing rim defender but understands help defense and verticality. Collins will be able to slide between small ball center and traditional power forward. He drops this far solely because the teams above want guards and wings. Because of that, Miami gets a top-10 talent at the bottom of the lottery.

– Be the player that you want to be

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Clash of the Titans Part 3: 2017 NBA Finals Preview

Golden State Warriors vs Cleveland Cavaliers

The march for the NBA Championship has been a clear two horse race since the moment Kevin Durant decided to join the Golden State Warriors, the team that had won 73 games the season before. He teamed up with back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry, perennial Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) candidate Draymond Green, and the human flamethrower Klay Thompson. Questions about how they would mesh and blend was the only foreseeable obstacle and even that proved to be futile. The Warriors steamrolled through the regular season obliterating opponents at record pace with a net rating of 12.1, winning 65 games and securing the winningest 3-seasons stretch in NBA History. In the postseason, they’ve upped their games (albeit under extenuating circumstances), winning all 12 games with an average net rating of 16.8. The Warriors are running at peak capacity with the NBA Finals on the horizon and not even a healthy Kawhi Leonard could have stopped them.

The Cavs have also spent this postseason obliterating teams. While LeBron cryogenically slept through the regular season, his LeBron James clone led the Cavs to a ho-hum 51-31 record, the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference and a rather pedestrian 2.9 net rating (8th best in the league). However, advanced statistics do not consider that a truly generational talent was hibernating throughout the regular season to ensure he was at peak performance come playoffs time. And in these playoffs, LeBron the Great has returned from his cryo-sleep and led this team to a 12-1 record, with a 16.1 net rating. And he’s ONLY averaging an absurd 41 minutes, 32 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. Peak LeBron is a scary proposition but if any team is built to withstand legendary exploits from one of the all-time great players in NBA history, it is this Golden State team. With 2 former MVPs, a future DPOY and quality veterans who are playing well above their pay grade, the 2017 NBA Finals will be both LeBron and Golden State’s toughest challenge yet.

Golden State Warriors AKA Golden State Death Machine

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(Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images)

The Golden State Warriors strength in numbers moniker is almost a statement of fact. The Warriors can and will go 12 deep with their rotations. Their depth is weakest in the frontcourt where JaVale McGee has become the lightning rod off the bench (and as a starter). He’s a highlight waiting to happen with this Warriors team and is allowed to run, jump, block and dunk to his heart’s content. He still gets overzealous and will return to Shaqtin’ JaVale which usually gets him benched quickly. Zaza Pachulia is a hard 6 fouls, solid perimeter and post defense and great at boxing out. Zaza is constantly moving bodies in the paint to get better position or to allow the wings to swoop in for rebounds.

Draymond Green is the workhorse in the frontcourt. He powers the defense from the 4 or 5 and allows their small lineups to thrive by having the strength to battle centers on defense and 3-point ability to stretch the floor on offense. David West is a shell of David West. He provides all the grit, midrange shooting and passing with none of the athleticism from much earlier in his career. And he turned down 11 million dollars to ring chase. He may get his ring but 11 million is a lot of money to leave on the table.

Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, and Klay Thompson are the lanky wing linchpins that allow their defense to be even more switch capable and the offense to flow as smoothly as it does. The playmaking ability of Andre Iguodala has long been underrated and in a lineup, that features Durant and Thompson’s scoring abilities, Iguodala can thrive finding teammates, making precise cuts and finishing at the rim. When his jump shot is falling, opponents have no chance. Klay is the deep-range assassin. He floats around on offense, cutting and finding open spots to bomb 3s from. What makes Klay special though, is his ability on defense. On a nightly basis, he  uses his length and size to effectively bother the other team’s best perimeter scorer. Durant is more of the mid-range assassin. Durant is usually working through the wing and high post where he can easily beat his man off the dribble or shoot over the top of him. He’s also deadly when spotting up and off the dribble from three. The fuel that powers the death machine is Stephen Curry. When he’s cooking (no pun intended) he can single-handedly destroy opponent leads, or build Golden State’s with unguardable 30+ foot jumpers. He’s a wizard with the ball in his hands and cannot be guarded when he’s on. It’s crazy cause I could use this exact sentence with KD and they have both of them. Sigh!

The Warriors also have two vastly different change of pace point guards in Shaun Livingston and Ian Clark. Shaun Livingston is 6’6, extremely lanky and will dunk all over your face. He’s very smooth and methodical in his offense and specializes in all things midrange. Also with his height and length, he is a frustrating defender for most guards. Clark is a 6’3 guard with elite quickness and shot 37% from 3 during the regular season and 40% during the playoffs. He’s another sparkplug off the bench averaging 18 points per 36 minutes. Clarke flies around the court, plays pesky defense and shoots 3s. The final potential contributor is Patrick McCaw. He’s a complete wildcard in regard to playing time but he’s a cool customer. If he plays, he’ll be a lesser Ian Clark. McCaw will fly around the court, play scrappy defense and hit 3s. He doesn’t provide much playmaking but as the 29th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the fact that he can provide meaningful minutes in the Western Conference finals and potentially NBA Finals is more than Golden State could have asked for. Oh, and Matt Barnes will play spot minutes across the wing in a pinch.

Cleveland Cavaliers AKA LeBron the Great and his band of Cavaliers

LeBron steals game 2 on the road
(Getty Images)

LeBron James is the Cleveland Cavaliers. They barely go 10 deep and Channing Frye probably won’t be able to stay on the floor against the Warriors. Everyone understands their role on the team: shoot the ball when LeBron passes it to you. LeBron is the alpha and the omega. Kyrie Irving is his right-hand man and Kevin Love is next in line. They will pace the offense (won’t play much defense) as necessary by hitting a ton of 3s and isolation buckets. This will allow LeBron to rest on offense and play off ball as a cutter and finisher. JR Smith is Kyrie after about 7 shots of Hennessy. He has all the tough bucket making ability of Kyrie but he seems inebriated at the tip of every game. Some games he can tie the record for most 3 pointers made in a game and sometimes he’ll tie the record for most 3 pointers attempted in a game. It’s the Earl Smith Experience.

The rest of the Cavs team are very specialized players who were brought on by GM LeBron for a particular reason. Tristan Thompson is an offensive rebounding dynamo and great at containing guards on the perimeter. Cleveland will get a few uncontested 3s per game off of Tristan Thompson offensive rebounds. Once the ball gets to perimeter it will hop between shooters until they find an open shot. What Tristan doesn’t offer in offensive talent, he makes up for with rebounding, defense and hustle.

Kyle Korver and Channing Frye are shooters. That is all they do and that is all that is asked of them. If they do anything other than shoot 3s or swing the ball, it usually does not end well. Richard Jefferson and Deron Williams play the role of the wily vets. They will control the pace of the game and make sound decisions when the stars are getting a breather. This is 2017 though, not 2007. They can provide about 20 solid minutes but anything more than that and again you’re asking for trouble. The final rotational player the Cavs will deploy is the only player (outside of LeBron) that will give you a net positive on defense. Iman Shumpert is usually tasked with pestering the opponent’s best offensive wing (Paul George, Demar Derozan, Isaiah Thomas) where he has varying success. He’s solid. He’s not a great 3-point shooter but he’s not self-check either and he’s a good finisher with above average athleticism. If the Cavs are relying on his offense, they are in serious trouble.

I don’t mean to sound like a broken record but this team is essentially LeBron, his 2 generals, a captain and some townsfolk. This team requires LeBron James to be the best player in the world to supplement the deficiencies of their role players, because all Kyrie and Love do is get buckets. However, when Kyrie and/or Love are getting buckets effectively, the game opens up for LeBron, which then opens the game up for his band of merry men. This is when the Cavs start clicking and will steamroll teams into the dirt without playing an ounce of defense. Or LeBron can go God Mode and completely dismantle his opponent single-handedly.

The Battlegrounds – Oracle Arena and Quicken Loans Arena

Oracle Arena aka Roaracle is the home of the Golden State Death Machine and it gets its name because of how loud and intense it gets inside. During a Steph-splosion, the arena gets rocking to a point that all the other Warriors instantly snap into rhythm as well, which is instant death in most cases. 39-2, 39-2, 36-5 are the home records for the Warriors over the last three seasons. That is 114 wins and 9 losses over a 3-year span. In the playoffs, they are 22-2 at home but only 4-3 versus LeBron in the NBA Finals in that same span. It is safe to assume that LeBron does not fear the Roaracle crowd in any way. He averaged 33.2 points per game in that arena over those 7 games, with a high of 44. However, that was all pre-KD. This Warriors increased their offensive rating by almost a full point at 113.2 (112.5), while maintaining their defensive rating at 101.1 (up from 100.9). Anything is possible with LeBron, Kyrie, and lil’ Kev… but bruh, they have Steph, KD, Dray and Klay. The Roaracle crowd will fuel the role players and Ian Clark and JaVale McGee (my god, I really just wrote JaVale McGee) will be the difference makers. Let this take scorch your tongue: LeBron and his men will not win a game in Roaracle.

Quicken Loans Arena is not as overwhelming as Roaracle but the Cavs do find a comfort there. The Cavs were 31-10 at the King’s Castle and 20-21 elsewhere. However, LeBron often cruises through the regular season as evidenced by the 120.7 offensive rating they’ve posted in the postseason (110.9 in the regular season). They’ve won 5 of their 6 home games this postseason and won 9 out of 10 home games in the 2016 postseason (and had a 112.5 offensive efficiency as well). Golden State has found a way to win 3 out of 6 NBA Finals games in Quicken Loans arena over the last 2 seasons. For all intents and purposes this is a push. LeBron and Kyrie have talents that will travel well. The same cannot be said for the rest of the team. Being within the cozy confines of the King’s Castle brings out the best in role players such as Kevin Love (extremely talented role player), Iman Shumpert, and Tristan Thompson. JR and Kyle will shoot regardless of arena and the wily vets (Williams/Jefferson) will play smart, hard and minimize their impact (positive or negative). This is where things get interesting though. Will that be enough to neutralize the many weapons that Golden State possess. LeBron and Untucked Kyrie should be able to hold serve for a game or 2 but they will need legendary performances to push this to the brink.

KEY MATCHUPS: Kyrie Irving vs Wardell Curry

Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry are essentially the same player. Limitless range, endless buckets of sauce, shot creating and finishing abilities gifted from the gods themselves, obvious defense liability with enough athletic ability and coordination to make a great defense play every now and then, and so much more. The scary thought is that Steph is also 4 years older and has been in the league 2 years longer. Kyrie is coming for him. And when he gets there, his jersey will be untucked. When Kyrie’s jersey comes untucked he enters his peak form, capable of torching any defender, defense, team or organization. Kyrie Irving is one of the best scoring guards in the league. After finishing the Celtics with a career high 42 in game 4 and an efficient 25 in game 5, he turns his focus to the NBA Finals again where he last averaged 27 points per game. Kyrie will be guarded primarily by Klay Thompson but it won’t matter. Kyrie will get his buckets.

HOWEVER, Steph is not a 2 time MVP and first ever unanimous MVP for nothing. He’s been lights out all playoffs after a relatively quiet regular season (25/6/4) averaging a blistering 29 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds. He’s also blazing a trail to the 50/40/90 Playoff Club (50% from field, 40% from 3, 90% from free throw). Steph Curry is a walking offensive explosion. His nuclear meltdowns are the stuff of legend and can only be matched by the exploits of his backcourt teammate (Klay Thompson). He can pull up from 30 effortlessly or can break you down and toss a floater over your head. It’s confounding. JR and Iman are the more likely parties to be chasing Steph around screens and picking him up at half court. But, the only person capable of stopping Steph is Steph, as evidenced by his disappearing act in back-to-back NBA Finals. This series hinges heavily on Steph being Steph. If the 2017 version continues rolling then Golden State should as well. But if he reverts to a pumpkin again, his legacy could be forever tarnished.

LeBron James the Great vs Kevin Durant

LeBron-14s-Durant-Warriors-Cavs-Christmas - Copy
(USA TODAY Sports)

*clears throat, Bruce Buffer voice* AND NOW, ITS TIIIIIMMMMMEEE! This is the matchup the NBA has wanted since the 2012 NBA Finals between Miami and Oklahoma City. We thought at the time that they would blossom into the dominant NBA rivalry of the next half decade but James Harden was sent to Houston, LeBron went back to Cleveland and Durant went west to Oakland. And somehow, in some weird way, we still end up with prime LeBron (Jesus) and prime KD in a battle for the NBA Championship for (possibly) the next half decade.

LeBron the Great won a championship in Cleveland, Ohio after overcoming a 3-1 deficit versus the Golden State Warriors after those same Warriors won an NBA record 73 games in the regular season. He’s smart, athletic and uniquely motivated to be great. He does whatever he wants, when he wants on and off the basketball court. He’s easily the greatest player of his era and will be on the pantheon of sports when he’s done. What he’s done this season while essentially conserving his energy for the postseason is ludicrous. LeBron is so good, that he knows he can play at 75% speed for a season and still average 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists per game. Then he’ll waltz into the playoffs and average an absurd 32 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists per game while shooting 56% from the field and 42% from 3. He’s the King and we are all peasants.

The Slim Reaper (unofficially) is the latest edition to the Golden State Death Machine. He’s a 7-foot scoring assassin. Kevin Durant has the handle to get anywhere on the court, the size to shoot over anyone and the athleticism to blow past defenders and finish through traffic. He essentially replaced Harrison Barnes which is absurd. The team that lost in the NBA Finals in 7 games the previous year, replaced their starting small forward with the second-best player in the league. That is ABSURD! Now we have a 74-game sample size of Kevin Durant and the Warriors (20 games lost to a sprained knee) and we see how devastatingly efficient these guys are. He’s averaging the lowest minutes per game of his career and is still averaging 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. He may not win the statistical battle with LeBron but he doesn’t have to. If he continues to play with this kind of otherworldly efficiency Golden State should have no problems winning this series. And if need be, the Slim Reaper is always capable of taking over and winning a game on his own.

Lil’ Kev vs Draymond Green

Lil’ Kev is lil’ Kev in this series because big Kev is Kevin Durant. So lil’ Kev has to earn his Kevin status. This is slightly disrespectful to Kevin Love who has been playing lights out this postseason. While he’s only averaging 17 points (role player) he’s shooting almost 48% on 3 pointers. He’s also grabbing 10 rebounds per game, helping form a dynamic duo with Tristan Thompson on the boards. While he’s not shooting particularly well from inside the 3-point line, Cleveland doesn’t ask him to go down there much anyway. If he continues shooting near 50% from 3 then they won’t ask him to take another 2-pointer for the rest of his Cavalier career. He’ll probably be matched up with Durant and Draymond Green so he’ll need to make the most of his opportunities on offense while minimizing his ailments on defense.

One thing that may play in lil’ Kev’s advantage on defense is that he will be guarding Draymond Green who is the lowest offensive threat of the Warriors big 4. However, if he gets rolling… it’s over. I feel like I’ve said that exact line 5 other times. There are so many players in this series that can get going in an instant and swing the tide of an entire game. Draymond is a freight train in transition, he’s hitting 47% of his 3s in the playoffs while averaging 7 assists and 2 turnovers per game. And he’s the LOWEST OFFENSIVE THREAT OF THE WARRIORS BIG 4. My god. He’s the integral cog that keeps the machine moving. His unselfish offensive play coupled with the 3-point prowess allows them to space the floor and attack with Steph, Klay and KD. And that’s not even where he’s most valuable. He should run away with Defensive Player of the Year this season because he’s been that good. He passes every eye test, metric test and stupid test you want to put it against. He protects the rim, plays the passing lanes, showcases stellar 1 on 1 post and perimeter defense and is the linchpin of their defensive communication. Draymond’s unique versatility is essential to the Golden State Death machine. And his intensity helps too (or it could also get you suspended for a NBA Finals game).

X-Factor Matchup: Earl Smith vs Klay Thompson

Shirtless Earl Smith
(Aaron Josefczyk, REUTERS)

This last matchup is a coin flip, not in talent but in impact. Klay Thompson is a far better player than Earl Joseph Smith. He’s better offensively, defensively and statistically. Both players will be asked to do essentially the same thing though: supplement the scoring of your mega-star teammates and defend the mega-star backcourt scorer. They will chase Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving around the court for the entire series and they will each get pieces of LeBron and KD, respectively. On the other end of the court they will be expected to hit lots and lots of 3s.

While the defensive ability of Klay is a known commodity, his shooting has been suspect this postseason. While Golden State hasn’t needed him yet, they also have not had to play a team with the offensive firepower of Cleveland. Klay is currently shooting 38% from the field and 36% from 3. This slump has continued each round and if you are Golden State it’s becoming troublesome. But it’s only slightly troublesome because Klay Thompson moonlights as the Human Torch, so from time to time he will go from shooting slump to 60 points in 29 minutes.

Meanwhile JR Smith has never been a player you could consistently rely on. If you tried to, you were doomed to fail. That was until June 19th 2016, where Earl Joseph Smith became an NBA Champion and world treasure. He unforgettably went shirtless through the Vegas night after that legendary Game 7 victory. He then continued his shirtless march through the Cleveland parade. Earl is a cult hero. He’s also shooting 48% from the field and 45% from 3. He is, again, not a player you would count on for consistency but he does get buckets. His confidence never wavers and he always thinks every shot he takes is going in. That type of swagger may be enough to help Cleveland to the unthinkable, two years in a row.

Prediction: Golden State Warriors beat Cleveland Cavaliers (4-2)

Golden State Warriors v Detroit Pistons
(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

LeBron is great but we’ve seen him fall short. In 2007, when he was still a young pup. In 2011, with the pressure of “The Decision” looming. In 2014, where the Spurs were simply better. And in 2015, where he couldn’t carry the entire city by himself. This season feels a lot like 2014. LeBron will be the best player in this series, as he has been these playoffs. But Golden State will have the next 3 best players. The impacts of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green will be too much for LeBron. How Kyrie performs against Klay Thompson will be the determining factor of this series. I expect Kyrie to have a good series with at least one 35+ point game. I don’t expect it to be otherworldly enough to carry the Cavs to the level necessary. LeBron’s individual greatness can only carry them so far. And if his greatness is enough to get past the Golden State Death Machine than he will unequivocally be the greatest player ever.

I don’t see that happening. Golden State will be far too suffocating and overwhelming. Their role players are better, their team is deeper and their stars are more numerous. I expect Golden State to win a slug-fest in Game 1, and cruise in Game 2. Games 3 and 4 are Cleveland’s to lose so expect LeBron and Kyrie to go bananas in these two games to hold serve. They will probably be lil’ Kev’s best games of the series as well. Game 5 will be should be a wire-to-wire win for Golden State. Game 6 should be a classic in Quicken Loans arena, with LeBron and Kyrie attempting to stave off elimination. I’d fully expect Kyrie to start this game with his jersey untucked and will empty every bucket of sauce he has left. LeBron will have a classic, unstoppable LeBron elimination game but it won’t matter. Steph and KD will combine for 70+, Klay and Dray will play harassing and suffocating defense all game and a few timely 3-pointers from Green, Thompson, Iguodala and Clark will be enough to win Golden State their 2nd title in 3 years.

How great would it be if the Cavs and Warriors met for the next 4 years and made a best of 7 series out of the NBA Finals? I’d also take the Warriors in 6.

Finals MVP: Kevin Durant 33 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists 54/39/85

– Be The Player You Want To Be

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Cincinnati Bengals 2017 NFL Draft Review

SO, in 2016 the Cincinnati Bengals failed to get that illustrious playoff win they’ve been seeking or even make the playoffs in general. There were a lot of factors that led to this including the health of key offensive players and the availability of a key defensive player. Age also began to rear its ugly head in the front seven and youth in the secondary. Expected contributors from the 2016 NFL draft were also taken out before the season even began. You could say this is a string of excuses but I’d like to think it’s a run of bad luck. Cincinnati’s due baby!

The health of AJ Green, Tyler Eifert, William Jackson III, and Andrew Billings are of no concern now (okay Tyler’s a little concerning but fingers crossed). With a solid free agency and 2017 NFL draft, along with the return of the aforementioned key contributors, Cincinnati would be primed for a speedy rebuild. HOWEVER, good ‘ole Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis don’t make it easy on you. Due to some unwritten rule in Paul Brown Stadium about not paying the best offensive lineman in the league like they are the best offensive lineman in the league, Kevin Zeitler (arguably the best guard in the AFC) and Andrew Whitworth (arguably the best tackle in the AFC) walked out the door. Cincinnati also gave up the 8th most sacks last season, and was 21st in YPA in rushing with them on the roster. They were replaced with Andre Smith…

So, considering the Bengals flubbed free agency (as usual), they’d really need to hit big in the draft to have a chance at another postseason appearance. Well, I took a few days to check measurables, research quirky stats (good and bad), and grind tape, just to tell you why I think these group of youngsters can contribute enough to push Cincinnati back into the playoffs. And as a disclaimer, if this blows up in my face, I’m 100% editing this post Chad Ford-style.

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Auburn DE Carl Lawson (Photo: Icon Sportswire, Getty)

The Youngsters

The Cincinnati Bengals 2017 draft class is a big one. The 11 newest Cincinnati Bengals are (in order): Washington WR John Ross, Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon, Kansas State DE Jordan Willis, Auburn LB Carl Lawson, Tennessee WR Josh Malone, Memphis K Jake Elliott, Michigan DT Ryan Glasgow, Utah OL JJ Dielman, Oklahoma LB Jordan Evans, Houston S Brandon Wilson, and Buffalo TE Mason Schreck. Cincinnati’s rookie classes generally breakdown into 3 categories: Rotation players, special teamers, developmental depth. No one from this class will be asked to carry the load at any position and more often than not, will be the low man on the totem pole until proven otherwise. The rotation players are obviously Ross, Mixon, Willis and Lawson. These 4 will be the determining factor in how well Cincinnati does in 2017. Excelling in their roles will ease the burden on the stars of this team. The special teamers will be Elliott, Evans, and Wilson. They will be expected to contribute immediately for Darrin Simmons’s unit. The remaining group of Malone, Glasgow, Dielman, and Schreck is developmental depth. While we expect all the rookie players to develop and be depth to some extent, barring an extraordinary training camp and preseason, this group is most likely to be inactive on game days and aren’t expected to contribute until 2018.

Rotation Players: This group of players were drafted with one thought in mind: SPLASH! John Ross and Joe Mixon combined for 56 career touchdowns and Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson combined for 40 career sacks. That is exactly what they will be expected to do with Cincinnati in their limited roles.

Say it with me now: John Ross, the number 9 pick in the NFL draft, will not be a starter in 2017. That job belongs to the veteran Brandon LaFell. John Ross will be the ultimate utility piece this season. He will run reverses, catch screens, run go routes, return punts and kicks all season long. His number one offensive job will be to score touchdowns, obviously. But very closely behind that will be getting AJ Green open. His 4.22 speed is a nice, large sign that says, “I will run past your safeties if you fuck around”. Which means, AJ Green will run past your safeties on the other side. This will also give the Tylers, Boyd and Eifert (God, I pray he survives this season), more room to operate in the middle of the field. All John Ross has to do is be a better Darrius Heyward-Bey and the offense becomes far more dynamic. And John Ross is definitely better than Darrius frikkan Heyward-Bey.

Now, we must address the elephant in the room… Joe Mixon broke 4 bones in Amelia Molitor’s face. He used a homosexual slur and derogative language towards her and her friend and was called a racial slur. What happened next is a way that no person should ever act in any circumstance. He was then suspended the following season at Oklahoma, instead of released outright, because he was a very talented football player. But giving an 18-year-old a second chance after making the biggest mistake of their life, is not a bad thing. He still had to work to get to this point and that moment in his life doesn’t make him any less worthy of earning his keep in life. He is still 20 years old, and will have just turned 21 at the start of training camp. I trust that as he continues to grow as a man he will continue to learn from that mistake and he won’t allow himself to cross that line again. And he’s going to catch a lot of passes, run for a lot of yards and score a lot of touchdowns in a Bengals uniform. And I’m going to cheer. Cast judgement if you want.

Let’s venture to the defense side of the ball for a bit and take a look at Jordan Willis. He is an athletic freak. He tested off the charts at the 2017 NFL Combine and he flashes that athleticism from time to time. He racked up 24.5 sacks in his career but it was all hustle and heart. He is relentless but raw. He’s explosive at the snap and kind of flails around until he eventually gets to the QB. It’s truly unbelievable to watch. Every now and then he flashes an elite swim move and bend on the edge, but his most effective move is hustle. One small problem with that though: hustle won’t consistently get you to the QB in the NFL. If Bengals Defensive Line coach Jacob Burney can mold Jordan Willis’ athleticism, there is potential for a high level rotational rusher. If he can contribute 4-6 sacks and about 24 pressures in his rookie season that’d be a rousing success. My one issue with this pick is that it could have been Derek Rivers, who I much preferred as a prospect. If he becomes the better prospect Marvin Lewis will have burnt any benefit of the doubt he has left.

Now to the real gem. I love this guy’s tape. It was so fun to watch. His pass rushing arsenal is exquisite. Carl Lawson wakes up, takes a shower, puts his pants on two feet at a once, pours himself a bowl of Wheaties and then proceeds to destroy offensive linemen. He is consistently destroying offensive lineman. It’s offensive (ha!). Auburn used him as a stand-up blitzer, inside rusher, left DE, right DE and he used inside moves, outside moves, swim moves, spins, bull rush, EVERY FRIKKAN THING. Now the only fear I have is that he is not great in space. Shifty running backs and receivers can get by him with their quickness on swing and flat routes. If I trusted Marvin to use him as a rusher for 95% of his snaps than that would quell this fear, but I believe Lawson will be rushing on closer to 65% of his snaps. He will be great coming down hill in the run game though. He is strong when he engages and has a nose for the football (cliché alert) so I think he’ll be a good player for Cincinnati regardless of whether they play him at DE or LB.

Special Teamers: This group’s contribution to the team will likely be just as important as the former’s. This team’s biggest issue last year was probably kicking (if not redzone offense). So, they drafted a kicker for the first time in Marvin Lewis’s 14-year tenure. And they drafted that kicker in the 5th round. They also traded up in the 6th round to draft a position-less athlete that will probably be the team’s special teams ace in waiting (see ya Cedric Peerman). The final member of this group is an extremely athletic LB who will be covering punts and kicks from day 1. The immediate impact special teamers from this draft are Jake Elliott, Brandon Wilson and Jordan Evans.

Last season Mike Nugent had a dead leg. Then he lost his confidence. He was 0 for 3 from 50+ and missed SIX EXTRA POINTS. That is dreadful and after a while the team stopped trotting him out for anything over 49. Jake Elliott was 4 for 5 on 50+ yard field goals in his career. He also has a long of 56 yards in his freshman season. Not to continue singing his praises but he never missed an extra point in his career. 2 plus 2 doesn’t always equal 4 but when it does you draft a kicker in the fifth round. And that is exactly what Cincinnati did here. Hopefully the 5th round wasn’t too high for him though. If he has a Roberto Aguayo-esque rookie season, I will find him and fight him myself. I am 6’3, 190. He’s 5’9, 165. Advantage: Me. Don’t fuck this up Jake or I’m coming for you… best of luck though.

Brandon Wilson
Brandon Wilson hurdling a teammate (Photo: AP Photo/George Bridges)

Brandon Wilson will be Cedric Peerman 2.0. In addition to covering punts and kicks, he will step into immediate competition with Alex Erickson (2016 AFC return yard king) for number 1 return duties. He can also take RB or DB snaps in an emergency. In college, he scored 6 TDs: 1 fumble recovery for a TD, 1 INT returned for a TD, 2 kickoff returns for TDs, and 2 rushing TDs. He played running back, defensive back, and returned kicks. He ran a 4.3 40. He’s a football player (cliché!).

And last but certainly not least, Jordan Evans. He may have been my second favorite tape to watch. He constantly made splash plays on Oklahoma’s defense but I don’t see him breaking past the LBs ahead of him on the depth chart. Between the Mercenary Burfict, the newly acquired Kevin Minter, and last year’s 3rd round pick Nick Vigil, it is an uphill battle (cliché!) to crack rotation. Marvin Lewis also hates rookies so he will have to earn his way onto the field. However, with a strong training camp and preseason I could see him stealing snaps from Vigil. Jordan’s athleticism is insane. He explodes through gaps to make plays in the backfield, has great timing on delayed blitzs, and tracks down ball carriers in the open field. He excels in space which is something Cincinnati hasn’t had in its LBs since I was in grade school (I’m only 24). His greatest asset is his pass coverage. He has great feeling in zone coverage and soft hands as evidenced by his 4 interceptions his senior season. He also had 8 pass deflections which shows a solid ability to read the QB, albeit in the pass happy Big 12 where 60+ pass attempts is another day in the office. However, he didn’t fall to the 6th round for no reason. When lineman get a hold of him, they take him for a ride. And he knows this so he’s hesitant when taking on blocks. His athleticism allowed him to make plays at the college level but NFL offensive players are much stronger and much more athletic so that will not fly. He will be a key special teamer where Cincinnati can utilize that athleticism as a plus and as his body matures and he will work his way up the LB rotation.

Developmental Depth: This last group will be fringe rotational players or inactives on game day. Malone, Glasgow, Dielman and Schreck provide needed depth and competition at different positions on the roster. The dark horse in this group is Ryan Glasgow. With a solid preseason, he could see himself at NT2 on the depth chart and push Pat Sims out the door for good. Even with that I wouldn’t expect him to get many snaps.

Josh Malone’s tape is soooooooo hard to watch. That Tennessee offense was a drag. Josh Dobbs was just bad 90% of the time. It was read option, followed by zone read, followed by speed option followed by incompletion, wash, rinse, repeat. Josh Malone has tools. He is 6 feet 3 inches tall and 208 pounds. He ran a 4.4 forty and showed that speed plenty on tape. He ran 3 routes: curl, go and slant. He needs to work on his release and his route running but his ball tracking, hands, size and speed make him an appetizing project. With route technicians on the roster like Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd and the king of receivers himself, AJ Green, he has plenty of veterans to mentor him and assist with his growth.

Ryan Glasgow is in direct competition with Pat Sims. If he wins, he will be active and Pat Sims will be cut. If he loses, he will be inactive and some 3rd string QB will lose his job. He has solid tape, average measurables and came from a Harbaugh coached defense. His job will be to eat block and be a general pest for offensive linemen, which he excels at. He’s a grinder in the trenches (cliché!). I don’t expect him to steal snaps from Andrew Billings because when he comes off the field I’d expect the horses to come out to rush the QB. Ryan will spend this year getting marginal snaps or inactive as a whole but the hope is he will be a longtime plus contributor on the defensive line.

JJ Dielman will be a utility lineman who will play the Jake Fisher (2015) role. He played snaps at RT in his junior season and was pretty bad. He was slow coming out of his stance and consistently beat around the edge. He is pretty quick and does a good job mirroring his defender when he can catch up to them but is susceptible to power moves in pass pro as well. He is awesome in space though. At center, he can track down LBs on pulls and will make solid blocks on the move. When he gets in the open field on screens and draws he excels. He will play across the line eventually but he won’t be active for any of the 2017 season unless he flashes some amazing potential or Cincinnati’s offensive line disintegrated into sawdust.

I’m going to be honest. I could not find any tape on Mason Schreck outside of highlight reels. He is 6’4, 250 pounds, and runs a 4.75 40. He is an athletic specimen and does a great job high pointing the football down the seams and in the endzone. He gives the coaching staff a developmental piece for future seasons but won’t contribute this year unless Eifert is banged up. Well now that I’m thinking about it, if we’re banking on Eifert’s health he should probably be in the rotation players section. If he has a great camp and capitalizes on his athleticism and size, he could beat out either Kroft or Uzomah. I don’t see it happening but anything is possible after Tyler Eifert in the TE room (hell the room name is his damn initials).

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1st-rounder John Ross and Head Coach Marvin Lewis (Photo: Sam Greene-USA TODAY Sports)

I have moderate expectations for Cincinnati’s 2017 rookie class. If they exceed these expectations, Cincinnati will return to form. With an easier schedule (thanks to finishing 3rd in the AFC North last season), a core of star veterans, and an injection of youth from both the 2016 and 2017 draft classes, Cincinnati will be competing with Pittsburgh and Baltimore for the AFC North crown again in the 2017 season. They may not make the playoffs this season but I expect them to have a winning record and be making strides towards becoming a championship contender as soon as 2018.

– Be The Player You Want To Be

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