Can the 2013 NBA Draft Class Totally Redeem Itself?

The 2013 NBA draft class wasn’t ever supposed to be a collection of superstar talent, but it also wasn’t expected to be so historically awful. Futility was the name of the game for last year’s rookies, who largely labored away in underwhelming fashion. 

There were a few standouts, sure. 

Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year while leading the charge for the Philadelphia 76ers, and a handful of other players appeared to be on the path toward long NBA careers. Victor Oladipo certainly qualified as such for the Orlando Magic, while Mason Plumlee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Steven Adams, Nate Wolters, Gorgui Dieng, Ray McCallum and Tony Snell contributed in varying degrees despite coming off the draft board later in the proceedings. 

Another Milwaukee Buck deserves a mention as well, as Wolters wasn’t exactly the standard-bearer for the crop of first-year players suiting up for a team now seemingly inundated with young talent. That honor goes to Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose numbers were lackluster but still allowed him to display his massive potential. 

All in all, though, the class was historically awful, and the overall product was too filled with negative production to earn any glowing reviews. 

As Kevin Pelton described for ESPN (subscription required), it may not have been the worst rookie class ever, but it was still in the conversation: 

The saving grace for this season’s rookies is the 2000 draft, once described by FreeDarko as leaving ‘a legacy of ruin and evil.’ That draft, which included busts Marcus Fizer, Darius Milesand Stromile Swift in the top five, produced at a rate 17.3 wins worse than replacement level by my wins above replacement player (WARP) metric as rookies — a mark that’s unlikely to ever be topped.

The 1990 draft (3.7 WARP as rookies) and 2007 draft (2.8) also were relatively weak, though they’d eventually yield superstars Gary Payton and Kevin Durant, respectively. But the 2000 draft had been the only rookie class since the ABA-NBA merger to leave the league worse off than if no rookies had played at all — until now.

Think about that. This is the second post-merger rookie class to be so bad that the NBA would have been filled with more talent if every single first-year player had spent the entire 2013-14 campaign on the bench. 

Clearly, some redemption is needed. 

Is it possible? Sure, as not every career’s course is determined by the direction of the freshman season. If that were the case, plenty of superstars would have been doomed into perpetual obscurity due to a lack of immediate production. 

But in the case of this 2013 class, redemption isn’t just possible; it’s likely. 

 

New Situation for the No. 1 Pick

The headliner of any draft class is almost always going to be the No. 1 pick, and that’s immediately problematic for 2013. After all, Anthony Bennett was the shocking selection of the Cleveland Cavaliers, inspiring reactions like this one across the basketball-watching nation: 

“Woah,” indeed.

Needless to say, it didn’t work out. 

Bennett somehow went 1-of-21 from the field during his first seven outings for the Cavs, trying way too hard to force up shots from the outside. He was historically awful at the beginning of the season, leading to this fantastic tweet from SB Nation in mid-January: 

That’s obviously not very good. Any time you’re exceeding the standards of awfulness set by Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi, you’re not exactly doing well for yourself. 

At the end of his rookie season, Bennett was averaging just 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, shooting a putrid 35.6 percent from the field and 24.5 percent from beyond the arc. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he had a 6.9 player efficiency rating and produced minus-0.4 win shares for Cleveland. 

But now, Bennett gets a completely fresh start. He’s no longer plagued by a shoulder injury that hindered his development as a rookie. He’s also as far removed from the spotlight as possible, playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves and taking a backseat to Andrew Wiggins, at least in terms of attention received from every source imaginable. 

There’s no longer any pressure to compete immediately, and that’s the best news possible for Bennett, who seemed fazed by the bright lights in his first go-round. Plus, he showed up healthy and in great shape for Summer League, putting the athleticism and all-around skills that made him such an intriguing prospect in the first place on full display. 

“It’s definitely been a lot easier for me to run up and down,” Bennett told NBA.com’s Dane Mizutani at media day. “I played 20 minutes straight [at Dunks After Dark] and I didn’t really have a problem with it.” 

It’s a great sign for the young forward from UNLV, and his dedication should pay dividends during a sophomore season filled with significantly less pressure. But he’s not the only one set to rebound from a tough rookie campaign. 

 

No More Injuries

What do Otto Porter, Alex Len and C.J. McCollum have in common? 

All three were top-10 picks in the 2013 NBA draft, but each of them also experienced significant injury-related setbacks heading into their first campaigns. 

Porter, who was widely viewed as one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the weak class, suffered a hip injury before the start of the season. He wasn’t able to debut until a Dec. 6 contest against the Milwaukee Bucks, but by then it was just too late. 

If there’s a bad part of the year to miss, it’s the very beginning. Rotations are being formed by the coaching staff and teammates are constantly developing on-court familiarity with one another. The adaptation process is already tough enough for a rookie, but having to dress in street clothes during the opening salvo of a season pushes them even further behind the proverbial eight ball. 

As Michael Lee wrote for The Washington Post, this was quite problematic for Porter: 

Porter is in the unique predicament of having to overcome three huge hurdles in his first season. The hip injury meant he needed time to regain confidence in his body and develop his conditioning. He has had to overcome the usual hassles of being a rookie, adjusting to the nonstop grind of games and practices and the incredible talent and athleticism of the competition. He also has to prove he deserves to play over two players more familiar with the NBA and Wittman’s system to gain significant playing time.

Thus far, Porter’s sophomore season already appears as though it will go more smoothly. He earned rave reviews for his exploits during Summer League, even making Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver’s All-Summer League first team

If the momentum carries over, that’ll be great news for the Washington Wizards, especially as Porter starts to learn from Paul Pierce, one of this offseason’s biggest acquisition and a veritable fountain of information, given his longstanding tenure in the NBA. 

McCollum is in a similar situation. 

As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann noted, the Lehigh product was picked by his fellow rookies as the most likely Rookie of the Year heading into the 2013-14 season. That didn’t exactly pan out as the first-year players thought—Carter-Williams wasn’t even in the top five, by the way—but some of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of that pesky injury imp. 

A broken foot sidelined the first-year combo guard for the opening six weeks of the regular season, and Terry Stotts‘ rotations were already established when he was able to play. Instead of helping out a struggling Portland Trail Blazers bench, McCollum bounced between the D-League and Rip City, failing to establish any sort of continuity. 

Then there’s Len, whose rookie season with the Phoenix Suns was disastrous. Ankle and knee injuries kept him out of the lineup for large portions of the year, leaving him unable to assert himself as a top-notch center prospect, despite Phoenix’s obvious need for a post-up player. 

A fractured pinky knocked him out of action this summer, but he’s ready to go for training camp, which should allow him to start living up to his lofty potential. As Paul Coro details for AZCentral.com, the coaching staff seems excited about having the big man back: 

Len was out of shape for last year’s training camp but enters this one having played in pickup games since late August.

[General manager Ryan] McDonough said Len has looked ‘as good as I’ve ever seen him play.’ He has looked more like the agile player they scouted at Maryland and has added strength since.

‘He seems a little bit quicker so when he makes his moves or runs up and down the court, it looks a lot better,’ [head coach Jeff] Hornacek said. ‘That’s hard work. He and Archie (Goodwin) are probably the hardest working guys on the team. That’s how you get better.’

For this trio of players, the 2014-15 season is essentially a second try at a rookie season, and that’s saying nothing of Nerlens Noel, who sat out the whole campaign to rehab his torn ACL. Last year should be viewed as a false start, if you will, allowing for this campaign to emerge as a do-over. They’re all being granted mulligans with their teams, even if the history books will always view 2013-14 as their rookie go-rounds. 

And, of course, that’s saying nothing of the continued growth from everyone else. 

The standouts from last year’s class are poised to continue building upon what they started. For example, Antetokounmpo looks more and more like a future star every day, and Plumlee will surely benefit from his experience with Team USA. 

No one is expecting that this class will suddenly rival the best in NBA history. Frankly, it’s unlikely that it ever becomes more than an average crop of collegiate and international products. 

But it doesn’t have to remain historically bad forever. Awful as 2013-14 was, this upcoming season is granting the now-sophomores a chance to redeem themselves, and it’s an opportunity the players aren’t likely to pass up. 

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VIDEO: Watch Julius Randle go head-to-head with Jabari Parker at 2013 Nike tournament

via twitter.com/Lakers
 
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to get excited about Julius Randle.
Randle is the highest Lakers draft pick since James Worthy was taken number one overall by the purple and gold in 1982, so having a talented, NBA-ready rookie on the team is something that Laker fans aren’t all that used to.
Although he was projected to go within the top five – and was even thought to be a top three pick at one point during the college season – the Lakers selected Randle with the seventh overall pick back in June.
In the Ball Is Life video below, Randle can be seen going up against the second overall pick in 2014, Jabari Parker. The footage is from a Nike tournament in March, 2013. According to Ball Is Life, Randle lead his team to victory with a stat line of 23 points (6-for-10 shooting from the field and 11-for-15 from the line), 13 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal, while Parker had 14 points (6-for-14 from the field), 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
Randle will next face Parker and his new tea

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For USC’s Andy Enfield, this March won’t resemble 2013

USC played hard this season, but it wasn’t yet able to execute its coach’s vision.

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Beck/Bucher: 2013 NBA Re-Draft: Who Goes No. 1?

The 2013 NBA draft class hasn’t exactly been the most flashy of classes, but a few players have emerged as the cream of the crop and look to have promising NBA careers. 

If we knew on draft night what we know today, who would have been picked first overall? 

We posed that question to Howard Beck and Ric Bucher, and you can see their answer in the video above.

 

 

 

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Michael Jordan made $90 Million in 2013, more than any NBA player

Make fun of the Charlotte Bobcats all you want. Owner Michael Jordan and his famous sneakers are still running all the way to the bank. The NBA legend made about $90 million last year, according to Forbes — his most ever, and the highest amount since he raked in $80 million while playing for the Chicago Bulls in 1997-1998, his last year with the team and his final championship season. The huge net — which is more than any retired or current athlete earned in 2013 except Floyd Mayweather Jr. — came from his still highly lucrative partnership with Nike. Jordan’s Air Jordan 10 “Powder Blue” retro sneaker, released Saturday, pulled in $35 million on the first day of sales, according to Forbes. Last year alone, Jordan’s retail items made $2.25 billion worth in sales, compared to LeBron James’ $300 million. Adidas’ biggest seller, Derrick Rose, had $40 million worth of his signature shoes sold. Jordan has been working with Nike since his rookie year, when he famously signed the first huge…

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Hawks sign 2013 2nd-round pick Mike Muscala (Yahoo Sports)

The short-handed Atlanta Hawks signed center Mike Muscala, a 2013 second-round draft pick, on Thursday after completing the buyout of his Spanish League contract. Muscala (6-11, 230) averaged 14.6 points and led the ACB League in Spain with 7.8 rebounds per game. The Hawks have lost 10 of 11 games to sink from third to eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. General manager Danny Ferry said Muscala, 22, can provide help for the remainder of the season.

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The NBA’s top 10 plays of 2013 will take your breath away

2013 was the year of basketball.

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LA Lakers Fittingly End Disastrous 2013 with a Dud

To say that nothing’s gone right for the Los Angeles Lakers this season is saying just a little—the Purple and Gold bid the year goodbye with a dud of a game against the worst team in the league.

What comes next? A new year filled with uncertainty and an ever-growing chorus of opinions, complaints and blame. This, set squarely in the white-hot spotlight of the Los Angeles mega media market.

The Milwaukee Bucks came to Staples on New Year’s Eve with a record of 6-24. They left with one more notch in their win column. The final score was 94-79.

For the Lakers, it’s just one more low point as the bottom continues to drop out. The summer began with Dwight Howard leaving after a disappointing season. Flash forward to six losses in a row, and as 2013 came to a close, boos were raining down from the rafters.

Management had a pretty simple plan going into this season—the hope that a healthy Bryant would retake his rightful place at the head of the table, that Pau Gasol would return to an All-Star level and that a bunch of minimum-salary test players might produce some sort of affordable core to build on going forward.

So far, the first two parts of the puzzle haven’t panned out. Bryant landed the two-year extension he wanted but fractured his left shin just six games after returning to the lineup. Gasol, meanwhile, has looked like a shell of his former self with just enough bright moments to entice one more decent contract as he approaches free agency—although it almost certainly won’t come from the Lakers.

The most recent of the frequent Gasol trade rumors has been the idea of a swap for former Lakers wonder-kid Andrew Bynum which would likely end with a salary dump by waiving him before January 7.

According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Gasol acknowledged being affected by the rumors:

Unfortunately, it’s hard not to see them. I can’t really control what goes on upstairs and what the team wants to do and what direction they want to head. When these rumors come out, you just don’t know. I didn’t get any calls that it was true or that it wasn’t true. You’re kind of in limbo thinking that you might get a call saying that it is and I’m gone. I don’t know.

Bresnahan also relayed Mike D’Antoni’s succinct reaction to Tuesday night’s loss:

“We didn’t do anything well. Yeah, we’re down at the bottom.”

Before we get to the young test cases, let’s bottom out just a little more. Veteran point guard Steve Blake was arguably having his best season in the league until he tore an elbow ligament. Steve Nash is sadly becoming something of a punchline as he tries to will his way back from old age and chronic back issues.

Jordan Farmar’s hamstring is obviously not right yet, and Xavier Henry is out with a bone bruise in his right knee.

The Lakers have just four players under contract next season. As mentioned, Bryant and Nash are on the shelf. The other two are Nick Young with a player’s option at $1,227,985 and backup center Robert Sacre with a salary of $915,243.

The rest of the roster is an open question mark. Certainly, the Lakers are looking for some answers—as in, a choice pick in next year’s draft?

 During the earliest part of the season, coach Mike D’Antoni was beginning to win some grudging respect. With Bryant still rehabbing from his Achilles injury, a roster formed primarily of misfits and draft busts was proving to be both energetic and entertaining. It wasn’t that the team seemed poised for a playoff run but rather that they showed promise.

The Lakers had a deep and potent bench, they were shooting from long range with ridiculous efficiency, and there was an infectious enthusiasm, especially from Young who was showing Staples patrons what swag was all about. The fun lasted about a month.

The short return of Bryant unfortunately coincided with a number of other injuries and, then of course, the Mamba himself was hurt again. Adding to the weirdness of the whole thing was his trumpeted new contract—virtually serving as an introduction to his newest injury.

Free agents like Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry and yes, even Shawne Williams, have shown that they still have a place in the league. They could easily be part of a nucleus for next season’s roster, especially considering their bargain-basement salary levels.

The problem for these guys, is that they’re auditioning not only for a return engagement but attention from other teams as well. These minimum-salary journeymen have to find the balance between playing well individually, succeeding within a team context and somehow showing a semblance of consistency within a shifting rotation that has, to date, featured 13 different starters.

Add to the dynamic a head coach who has basically given each and every one of them the green light to shoot at will.

No wonder the whole thing’s falling apart. You could call it a matter of tanking, but there doesn’t seem to be any real sense of purpose behind it. The Lakers, a franchise with a rich and proud history, is becoming a ragtag group of freelancers with no direction home.

Next up, the first game of 2014 against another of the league’s bottom-feeders. The Utah Jazz beat the Lakers last Friday and will attempt to do it again this Friday. Say goodbye to December with four wins and 11 losses. Say hello to…what?

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AP College Basketball Poll 2013: Complete Week 9 Rankings Released

While the changes atop the Associated Press Top 25 were minimal again in terms of rankings movement, the groundswell of subtle shifts could make the college basketball hierarchy awfully interesting to watch come 2014.   

For the fourth straight week, Arizona comes in as the top-ranked team in the nation. With a win over Northern Arizona on Dec. 23, the Wildcats ensured they would head into intraconference play undefeated for the second straight season. Spearheaded by the steady leadership of Sean Miller, leading scorer Nick Johnson and spectacular freshman Aaron Gordon, Arizona arguably has the most well-rounded squad in the nation.

That being said, Miller and Co. don’t quite have the same stranglehold on the No. 1 spot they did a week ago. Syracuse remains in the No. 2 spot, but following a win over Villanova in Week 8′s biggest matchup, the Orange received five first-place votes—up three from the last rankings.

The rest of the Top Five remains the same as well, with Ohio State coming in at No. 3, Wisconsin No. 4 and Michigan State No. 5. The true rankings of those teams will start being determined soon with the beginning of Big Ten conference play. Here is a look at how the rest of the Top 25 played itself out:

Following their win over Villanova on Saturday, there were many who thought the Orange would take over the top spot. After a dreadful start of the game that saw Syracuse go down 25-7 with 11 minutes remaining in the first half, Jim Boeheim’s squad battled back for a surprisingly dominant 78-62 win. 

Trevor Cooney (21 points) and Tyler Ennis (20 points) each had stellar outings, helping cancel out a 25-point night from James Bell. Where Syracuse really won the game was in the frontcourt. C.J. Fair (17 points) alone nearly tripled the Villanova starting frontcout’s scoring output (six points), and Jerami Grant added in 11 points and six rebounds off the bench. 

“This was really obviously a very physical, tough game and I think we started slow, who knows why,” Boeheim said, per Syracuse. “We haven’t played a lot, but we just got off to a slow start and they got off to a great start. But it’s a great win and we think about it and get ready for Eastern Michigan.”

Though they were underdogs coming in, the loss dropped the Wildcats back to No. 11. Jay Wright’s squad will try moving back into the Top 20 in next week’s rankings after trysts with Butler and Providence in the new Big East.

Syracuse has one more non-conference matchup against Eastern Michigan before starting the most important part of its schedule versus Miami on Saturday, Jan. 4. The Orange are playing in their first season in the ACC after leaving the Big East.

This past Saturday’s other most notable result brings the rankings its biggest two-way swing. Kentucky moves up to No. 15 following its 73-66 defeat of rival and then sixth-ranked team Louisville. The Wildcats had previously lost all three of their matchups against ranked opponents, but their brilliance at Rupp Arena seemed to override those struggles. They are now 9-0 in games played at their home court and 1-3 in contests played anywhere outside Lexington.

Still, John Calipari was happy with the way his guys battled. Julius Randle, the team’s leading scorer and early National Player of the Year contender, sat out much of the second half while dealing with craps. But despite facing a massive experience disadvantage, Kentucky stuck it out down the stretch. 

“Again, guys, this is the youngest team I’ve ever coached, ever,” Calipari said, via Kentucky. “I’m learning.  Believe me when I tell you, I’ve never coached a team this young and so there’s so many things that we’re doing, trying to figure out, as we go.”

The Cardinals’ loss drops the defending national champions down to No. 14. They won’t have much time to recover from the loss, either, with their first American Athletic Conference matchup against Central Florida. Pitino will need to use that matchup and his team’s Jan. 4 visit to Rutgers to fix its biggest bugaboo: matchups against ranked opponents.

Elsewhere, the notable results were minimal. Most teams finessed their schedule so that the student-athletes could spend the Christmas holiday with their families—or at least away from the hectic college basketball travel schedule. Most of the matchups that did take place featured elite teams merely taking care of business against undermanned counterparts.

With intraconference play finally getting underway in Week 9, though, the Top 25 is seemingly due for a shakeup. Michigan State will face one of its biggest tests of the season on Saturday when it visits Indiana, while Wisconsin takes on its first ranked opponent in nearly two months a day later. 

For now, though, the college basketball world remains in a state of inertia. No teams dropped out of the rankings or moved in for the third straight week—an almost unprecedented stretch of calmness for the early season. 

Louisville’s eight-spot backtrack was the biggest drop of any team. Kentucky’s three-spot jump was the best of the week. 

 

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Cold Hard Fact for Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fact: Chris Bosh is 7-for-10 career shooting on potential game-tying or go-ahead three-pointers in final 10 seconds of fourth quarter and overtime.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats and Info

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