View Full Version : ESPN Insider 4/13/06 - Is Chis Paul better than Magic?

04-14-2006, 03:49 AM
Why Chris Paul is better than you think

By John Hollinger
ESPN Insider

Portland. Boston. Utah. Milwaukee. Atlanta. Charlotte. Toronto.

All of them, and perhaps a few other teams, could have had Chris Paul in the 2005 draft. And with each passing game, the mistake those teams made is becoming more and more obvious. Based on his rookie year, Paul has essentially been the next Magic Johnson ... only better.

"CP3" (not be confused with his pal R2-D2) almost single-handedly rejuvenated a reeling New Orleans/Oklahoma City team that was coming off an 18-64 season, had been forced to relocate just weeks before the season started and had traded its All-Star center in the offseason. With only a week to go, observers are stunned to see Paul's Hornets steadfastly clinging to life in the Western Conference playoff race. Already the Hornets have more than doubled last season's win total, and with a strong flourish, they could even crack the West's top eight.

As a result, Paul is going to win the Rookie of the Year award. Check that -- Paul is going to win unanimously, with a Jupiter-sized gap between him and whichever guy comes in second. (And if they gave out an award for having your jersey neatly tucked in at all times, he'd win that too.)

Paul's Rookie of the Year status is well known, of course ... so why am I bringing it up now? Because I don't think most people realize what a remarkable season Paul is putting together. At first glance, most folks think of his year as good, yes, but not great ... and certainly not historic.

One reason is that his traditional stats don't jump off the page -- 16.4 points, 7.9 assists and 5.3 rebounds. That's sure as heck better than any other rookie this year, but doesn't exactly evoke visions of Bird and Magic taking the league by storm. And he's shooting only 43.2 percent from the floor and 28.3 percent on 3-pointers, so one might think he's not terribly efficient, either.

But Paul is devastating in other ways. For starters, he takes a ton of free throws. Paul averages six free throws per game, or about one for every two field goal attempts -- a ridiculously high rate for a point guard. Thus, even without a good shooting percentage or many 3-pointers, his true shooting percentage is 54.9 percent -- placing him 10th among point guards.

Placing 10th doesn't sound overly impressive until you start going down the line and realizing Paul is in the upper tier of his position in every category. Of the possessions he uses, 31.3 percent end with an assist -- that puts him 10th. He turns it over on just 9.4 percent of the possessions he uses -- that's 11th best. And he's an obscenely good rebounder, ranking second only to Jason Kidd among point guards in rebound rate.

Add it all up and Paul's player efficiency rating of 22.35 is quite impressive. It ranks fifth overall at the point position, and it's that low only because the position is unusually strong this year. Chauncey Billups, Steve Nash, Gilbert Arenas and Allen Iverson are the point guards ahead of him, and all four are having career years in terms of PER. Leaguewide, Paul's mark ranks 17th -- ahead of the PERs of Carmelo Anthony, Ray Allen and Vince Carter.

But the impact of Paul's season doesn't really settle in until you compare him with other rookie guards. Off the top of your head, you might think it's fairly common for a rookie point guard to come in and play roughly as well as Paul has. Guess again.

Most rookie point guards, even the ones who turn out to be total studs, struggle mightily. Such greats as John Stockton, Gary Payton, Steve Nash, Mark Price, Gail Goodrich, Mo Cheeks and Tiny Archibald all had PERs below the league average as rookies. So for a guard such as Paul to come along and take over immediately is unusual.

The same is almost as true for shooting guards. Only a rare few can come in and star immediately. Even the greats tend to do what Dwyane Wade and Clyde Drexler did -- have a rookie season during which they occasionally star and leave obvious hints of their enormous potential, but don't consistently put up All-Star numbers.

As a result, Paul's rookie season stacks up well when compared with those of other rookie guards in NBA history. Very well. Shockingly well. Let's cut right to the chase. Here's a complete list of every guard in NBA history to post a better rookie PER than Paul's:

1. Oscar Robertson
2. Michael Jordan

Yes, that is the whole list. MJ and the Big O. In terms of PER, Paul is the best rookie guard in two decades and the best rookie point guard in 45 years.

You were looking for some other names? Sorry, they don't stack up.

Let's start with the one most of you will ask about: Magic.

As a rookie, Earvin Johnson averaged 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists and shot 53.0 percent while leading the Lakers to a championship. You might think, then, that the Magic man was better than Paul as a rookie, but you'd have a tough time proving it.

Despite Magic's having become synonymous with the triple-double, Paul's triple-double stats (points, rebounds, assists) as a rookie actually compare very well. Magic's scoring edge withers to almost nothing once you adjust for the difference in scoring between 1980 and 2006, and believe it or not, Paul has a much better assist ratio (percentage of possessions that end in an assist). The Magic man maintains an advantage in rebound rate, but it's much smaller than the disparity in per-game numbers would make you believe.

So what's the difference between Paul and Magic? Turnovers. The Magic man was a turnover machine as a young player (he set a record in the Finals that year with 10 in a single game), coughing it up far more often than Paul has (15.1 percent of possessions for Magic to 9.3 percent for Paul). So essentially, Paul is doing nearly all the things Magic did as a rookie but with substantially fewer turnovers. No, Paul won't be able to play center in Game 6 of the Finals, but short of that, it's hard to make a case for Johnson as the superior rookie.

Top Rookie Seasons by Guards in NBA History (Ranked By PER)
Oscar Robertson '60-61 Cincinnati 28.6 9.4 9.1 55.5 25.9*
Michael Jordan '84-85 Chicago 29.4 6.8 6.1 59.2 25.8
Chris Paul '05-06 NO/OC 18.1 5.8 8.7 54.9 22.4
Magic Johnson '79-80 Los Angeles 19.9 8.5 8.1 60.2 20.6
Vince Carter '98-99 Toronto 20.8 6.4 3.4 51.6 19.6
Calvin Murphy '70-71 San Diego 25.7 4.9 6.5 53.2 19.4*
Steve Francis '99-'00 Houston 20.0 5.9 7.3 54.3 18.4
Allen Iverson '96-97 Philadelphia 23.5 4.1 7.4 51.3 18.0
Rod Strickland '88-89 New York 21.2 4.7 9.4 53.9 18.0
Andre Miller '99-'00 Cleveland 17.5 5.4 9.1 51.7 17.9
* NBA didn't track individual turnovers before 1977-78; PER relies on estimate for turnovers.

And so it goes down the line. Johnson was actually the best rookie guard after Jordan and Robertson before Paul came along. The next two closest were Vince Carter and Calvin Murphy, but both have obvious shortcomings to Paul as a passer and Paul has a much better true shooting percentage than either. The comparisons get more one-sided as we move further down the list.

Having done this exercise, we find ourselves pondering a much bigger question: How good can this guy be? If only two guards in the history of the league can match what he did as a rookie, does this destine Paul to become one of the best guards of all time?

Unfortunately, that conclusion doesn't necessarily follow. Players improve at different rates for different reasons, and ironically, one factor that works against Paul is his low turnover rate. In general, players with a high turnover rate as young players tend to improve more in future seasons than their low-turnover counterparts. Even players who eventually became low-turnover guys, like Chauncey Billups, had high rates as rookies.

However, another trend should strongly outweigh the one above: Most guards improve massively over the course of their first three pro seasons. If Paul follows anywhere close to that trend line, he's going to be the best point guard in basketball within a year or two.

Additionally, it's not hard to see where the improvement might come. Paul's shooting percentages have substantial room for increase, and his form is good enough to suggest he'll find the range once he gets used to the pro 3-point line. Plus, Paul is only 20 years old, so he might develop further physically, too.

So although he might not (or might) end up being the caliber of player the Big O and Jordan were, that's about all we can say about Paul's ceiling. He's already as good as nearly any other point guard in game today, and as he learns his craft and develops his jumper, he'll only get better. Not bad for a guy who, in one way or another, saw seven teams pass on him in the draft.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. His book "Pro Basketball Forecast: 2005-06" is available at Amazon.com and Potomac Books. To e-mail him, click here.

Chat with John Hollinger

Welcome to The Show! On Thursday, NBA columnist John Hollinger will stop by to chat about the season, the upcoming playoffs and his column comparing Chris Paul to Magic Johnson.

Send your questions now and join John in The Show on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET.

Hollinger archives: Columns | Chats

SportsNation John Hollinger: Greetings everyone and welcome to a bonus edition of my chat. Lots of interesting playoff races to talk about, as well as that Chris Paul fellow.

Jay - Milwaukee, WI: Will Terry Stotts be the Bucks coach at the start of next year? ..and will Jamal Magloire be on their roster?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Milwaukee has a lot of important decisions to make this summer, and it starts with figuring out why there were so bad on D. You would think with guys like Magloire, Simmons and Bogut they could get a few stops. My guess is that Stotts is back and Magloire isn't, because right now they're basically paying Gadzuric for no reason, but I wouldn't bet anything important to me on it.

Joe (Dover, NH): Are you nuts ? CP has been good and even great, but there is no way that he's BETTER than Magic. Magic got a championship on his rookie year.

SportsNation John Hollinger: As a rookie, CP has been better than Magic. Does that mean he's going to move to center and get 42 and 15 in a playoff game? No. Does that the rest of his career will turn out better than Magic's? No. But has he been better in his rookie season? Sure.

Willie (Sayville, NY): John, I'm a big fan of yours and your use of statistical analysis, but I have a feeling your editor sent you on this "Chris Paul" mission. How can Paul's season accurately be compared with Magic's unless he too makes a trip to the NBA Finals? What is more, who's to say that he wouldn't have 11 turnovers in a Finals game?! And one final point. If Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd have proven anything, it is that turnovers should not be weighted the same for every player. Agreed?

SportsNation John Hollinger: So we can't compare Chris Paul to Magic unless we put Kareem on his team? That seems silly. As far as turnovers not being the same for every player ... I mean, the end result is the same, right? No matter how spectacular it looked, the team still lost the ball.

mike (hillsborough, NJ): What kind of numbers do you see Chris Paul putting up when he hits the prime of his career?

SportsNation John Hollinger: I think a lot of it depends on how he progresses as a shooter. If you look a lot of the greatest players -- Magic, Jordan, now LeBron -- they made extraordinary strides as shooters over the course of their careers. Paul would need to follow a similar path to achieve superstardom.

caleb (salem,or): Did you read Bill Simmons comment about The Big O yesterday? Any chance you might expand on that?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Nothing to expand upon -- he nailed it. Stats from that era, especially rebounding stats, are grossly inflated. That's why I cringe every time I hear one of the old-timers ripping Shaq because Russell and Wilt would get 30 rebounds in a game and he doesn't -- you can only get a rebound if somebody misses a shot, and there's a lot fewer misses than there used to be.

Stevo (Ft. Lauderdale, FL): Whatever happened to the D-Wade MVP campaign? Just because the Heat are coasting into the playoffs (Shaq always said he didn't care what seed they are) doesn't mean that Dwyane deserves to be overlooked again. Best 2-guard since MJ.

SportsNation John Hollinger: Here's the thing -- there's five days left in the season and I have absolutely no idea who I'm voting for. A lot of writers I know are in the same boat. My "Final 4" is LeBron, Dirk, Wade and Kobe, but splitting hairs among them is, to say the least, challenging.

Joseph Bethesda, Md.: Where do you rank Kidd, Jefferson, and Carter in the league as a trio? Do you think another team has 3 players better than they do?

SportsNation John Hollinger: I think Phoenix would with a healthy Stoudemire, and San Antonio does with a healthy Ginobili. But since those two guys haven't been healthy this year, I think RJ would have to win the unofficial award as league's best third banana.

Quentin (Auburn, AL): Should Lebron play in any of the remaining games this season? If so, or if not, how many of these games could the Cavs win since they were so putrid last night when the King went to the bench in the second quarter?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Let me put it this way -- I wouldn't send him back out there unless I was absolutely certain he was 100%. The Cavs have absolutely nothing to play for right now. I'm sure they'd like to get him at least one game before Round 1 starts though.

mike (hillsborough, nj): Out of this past years draft do you think Paul will wind up being the best player down the road, or will someone like Gerald Green or Marvin Williams become the better player?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Paul is so far ahead of these guys right now that it would be an upset if he didn't also have the best career.

Gary (Memphis): I like Chris Paul and he has led his team admirably this season, but why would you compare it let alone say it was better than Magic's? Is it because Magic didn't win Rookie of the Year?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Magic's rookie season has taken on an aura of legend because he was alraedy a big name, he came to L.A., and his team won the title. But look at the numbers instead of the names and tell me why Paul hasn't been better.

Jake (Cedar Rapids, IA): A lot of you sports writing types have said you have no vote for MVP... yet. Still waiting to see the last few games is what you tell us. So, now that Lebron and Wade might miss a few games (and Nash gets a lightened load), does this work against them? Why can't you simply analyze the first 70 some odd games and come up with a player? This "Tight MVP race" seems like a huge cop out for ESPN analysts.

SportsNation John Hollinger: I think some people are waiting to see if Dallas gets the No. 1 seed out West. If so, Dirk becomes hard to ignore. If not, it's a little easier to pass him up. In a lesser way, the same is true for the Lakers and Kobe -- people want to make sure they're a playoff team before pulling the trigger.

Teresa (Grand Rapids, Mi): You brought up your Final Four for MVP and Nash wasn't in it... you gotta explain why.

SportsNation John Hollinger: Real simple ... the other four guys were better. I know a lot of people have Nash in the fray, or Billups, Brand, Melo, and Tony Parker, but I can't put any of them in a class with those other four guys.

Travis (Lansing, MI): With the recent collapse of the Nets, the Heat playing hurt, and Lebron going down, who, if anyone, can actually challenge the Pistons in the playoffs?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Recent collapse is perhaps a bit strong -- they've won 15 of 17. I agree with your basic premise that the Heat are overwhelming favorites, but Miami or NJ will take a couple games off them.

Sasha (LA): How do you see the hornets doing next year? I think Chris Paul and David West are good players, but I don't see them becoming a dominate 1-2 punch. What missing pieces need to be filled in for the Hornets to be an Elite Team?

SportsNation John Hollinger: In a nutshell, more scorers. The Hornets are entirely too dependent on Paul and West because they don't get offense from any other spots. That's why J.R. Smith's development is going to be so important. If he takes a step forward and they either find a small forward with a pulse or revive the artist formerly known as Desmond Mason, they'll be a playoff team.

Matt (Madison, WI): How do you see the 6-8 seeds ending up out East? And will it matter anyway, or will they all get swept?

SportsNation John Hollinger: I'll go Milwaukee-Chicago-Indiana, but no, it won't matter, because they're all roadkill in Round 1. While I have a chance, though, gotta admire how hard those end of the bench guys played for the Bulls last night in a key game.

Chester (Boston, MA): Can you see anyone other than the Pistons or Heat advancing to the finals out of the East?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Only in a scenario that involved injuries. If everybody's healthy it would be those two, but Miami is banged up right now, so if one of Detroit's Wallaces popped a hammy things could shift pretty quickly.

Brian (Raleigh): I know CP3 is great and everything but over the past 2-3 months I would make the argument that Felton has been the best rookie. He has won it the last 2 months and if he actually played the pg and not the sg spot he would avg 9 assists a game easily. your thoughts.

SportsNation John Hollinger: Felton is having a fine rookie season and certainly justifying a draft selection that was originally seen as a reach ... but in comparision to Paul he falls way short. Felton takes too many jumpers for somebody with such an erratic stroke and needs to get to the line more.

Dan (Ottawa): Can we ever get a question about the Canadian team? John, The Raptors have a few key pieces already with them. Who should they look at drafting or signing? Should they resign Mike James as well?

SportsNation John Hollinger: I've had several questions in here about James. They key to me is the years. If he wants a five-year deal they should run away. Three years with an option for four and they're good to go. But I have a feeling somebody will offer James five years, so T-dot's best move might be a sign-and-trade.

tim (ny,ny): With the big scoring night by Antoine Walker the other day, do you think that the Heat have enough fire power with everyone healthy to get to the Eastern Conference finals or was that just an abberation?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Of course they do ... IF everyone is healthy. But they need Zo to come back, and the Jason Williams thing is a huge concern because the glove has lost his grip.

David Stern: Talk some Most Improved Player for a minute. Does Boris Diaw still have it locked up?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Has to be Diaw to me. But I've been floored by the picks for this award more than once, so nothing would completely shock me.

Allen (Los Angeles, CA): John, can you explain your theory that a players is "simply" better because he has good numbers? It seems extremely flawed. Your top 4 picks for the MVP might have nice numbers, but that doesn't make them more effective or better than, say, your nemesis, Nash, whose basketball IQ, work ethic, effort, and leadership cannot be measured. Yet these, not taking 30 shots a game, are what make players good.

SportsNation John Hollinger: Basically, I was trying to explain my rationale without launching into a dissertation. I think Nash's MVP candidacy has been more an emotional reaction than a logical one, and it's something which long-time chatters are probably already sick of hearing me talk about, so I kept it brief.

Mario (Bell Gardens, CA): John, why isn't ELTON BRAND on your list of possible players to give your MVP vote?

SportsNation John Hollinger: I think he's in that second group with Nash, Billups, Melo et al. But maybe now that he's in the playoffs people will finally realize what a great player he is.

JB (Cleveland): Lebron WILL average 39 points , 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, on 52% shooting in the first round series.

SportsNation John Hollinger: This is the kind of inside scoop you can only get in my chats.

Sharad, Princeton, NJ: OKKK.....Paul ws NOT better than Kidd, Penny, or Kvin Johnson as a rookie

SportsNation John Hollinger: Check out what those three did as rookies and get back to me. Penny was solid as a rook but didn't blow up until year 2. Same goes for KJ. Kidd was awful at the start of his rookie year before coming on at the end but still had dreadful shooting numbers (even by his standards).

Dave (San Antonio: The Spurs biggest problem this year has been the second game of a back-to-back. 10 of their 18 losses have been in such situations. Throw out these games and the Spurs have the best record in the league. How significant is this? Since there are no back-to-backs in the playoffs, do you think this should increase the Spurs chances of going all the way?

SportsNation John Hollinger: It should help the Spurs a bit with Duncan's foot problem, but don't take it for more than it's worth because A) Most teams do markedly worse in the second of a back-to-back and B) It's a small sample of games. To put in perspective, the Mavs losing Keith Van Horn probably did more for the Spurs' chances than anything the schedule could do.

Willie (Sayville, NY): John, if the playoffs are part of the season, and Chris paul will not play in the playoffs, shouldn't you amend your argument to "third best REGULAR season" by a guard? Us Magic Johnson fans could probably accept that.

SportsNation John Hollinger: In general, when people talk about "season' they're usually taling about "regular season" but perhaps I should have clarified that. Magic averaged 18.3-10.5-9.4 in his first postseason, so he certainly elevated his game.

Eric (Salt Lake City): Woah, woah. If you are going to answer a question about Felton vs Paul. Then you need to answer a question about Paul vs Deron Williams. Since Jan. 1st no one in the NBA has shot better from the 3 point line than D-Will. In your opinion how does Deron compare to Paul? I think Deron is at the very least in the top 3 of the rookie class.

SportsNation John Hollinger: Williams is knocking down the 3s, but overall I'm still very unimpressed. If he can't get to the basket at 22, what's he going to be like at 28?

chris long beach ca: Do u think the Lakers have any chance in the first round and, do u think kobe will win the mvp.

SportsNation John Hollinger: Lakers have a puncher's chance as long as they get the No. 7 seed, because Phoenix has defended very poorly down the stretch. As far as Kobe winning MVP, I think he's going to end up No.1 on some ballots and left entirely off some others, and because of that I don't think he's going to end up getting it.

Paul, Dallas Texas: What does the Warrior's 3rd win over Dallas say? I'm worried that if you get into their head you got it made...

SportsNation John Hollinger: Don't sweat it. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

Mike (Miami, FL): Come on admit it, wouldn't you rather be in South Beach for the NBA finals than Detroit?

SportsNation John Hollinger: OF COURSE. For those who haven't been, Detroit's arena is about 30 miles out in Suburbia, so let's just say that once work ended the entertainment options were limited. But it seems as though me and my media budies will get to spend another week in the friendly confines of Troy, Michigan this June, so I'm not even getting my hopes up.

SportsNation John Hollinger: And on that happy note, that's all the time I have for today. Be sure to check out the piece on Chris Paul's rookie season if you haven't already, and we'll do this again on Monday at 3.

04-14-2006, 03:52 AM
Chat with Jim O'Brien

Welcome to The Show! On Wednesday, NBA Insider Jim O'Brien will log on to chat with you about the NBA playoff push and anything else NBA-related that's on your mind.

O'Brien compiled a .535 winning percentage in five seasons as a head coach with Boston and Philadelphia. He led the Celtics to the conference finals in 2002.

Send in your questions to Jim now, and join him right here on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET for all his answers.

O'Brien Archive: Chats

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:00 PM ET ) Hi everyone, let's get started.

spencer (cleveland, ohio): with some younger teams rising, and the imminent decline of aging teams like the spurs, heat, and pistons (who are getting older but will probably get hit by salary cap and free agency first) over the next couple years, which teams do you think are poised to take things to the next level and become perrenial championship contenders?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:04 PM ET ) There are few teams that have very promising futures. The Raptors for one are positioned to make a big jump forward. Bringing in Colangelo will help. The Magic are positoning themselves well with young talent and money. Clearly the Cavs are in a great spot with James being so young and Ferry seemingly making all the right moves. Yao Ming is only a kid still and prior to going down with the broken foot was playing great. Not a bad got to start with. If the Celtics young guys are as good as Ainge thinks they are they might make some noise. The Suns are still young also.

LP (Knoxville): Jim, the Grizzlies have collapsed at the end of the year the last two seasons...why not this year? Do they really want to pass the Clippers? Playing Dallas will result in a sweep, maybe win one at home. They could beat Denver! Tank the last four, Czar! Why, Jim, why?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:07 PM ET ) Do not underestimate the fact that this is Fraetello's first full year. Defense gives you the best chance in the playoffs and they are 7th best in fg goal defense. Obvioustly they would have a much better chance if they played Denver.

jay (jersey): Who will win it all first Knicks or Celtics?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:10 PM ET ) Tough question. Clearly, Ainge seems to have a more coherent plan that what is going on this year in ny. However there is no way the Knicks should be as bad as they are. They have a lot of talent. Maybe it is not perfectly suited but they have talent. It will be a very, very long time before either team contends for another title.

Derreck (Veneta, OR): C'mon Jim, I know it's a touchy subject, but do you feel any vindication seeing how the Sixers have performed this year with basically the same roster as you had last season?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:16 PM ET ) I really don
't think I needed to feel vidicated. We took a team that won 33 games the year before and won 43 and got them into the playoffs. What is interesting is that Billy King is starting to realize his young players are not as good as he thought they were. When we took over in Philly and he told me of his opinion of all his young players I did not agree that they were nearly as good as he thought they were.
Defense is hurting them badly. We were 11th infg goal defense last year and now they are 22nd. It is also interesting to see that the fans have turned their backs on what is happening.

houston: Jim, Love your work...was pulling for your C's in 02. I want to cut to the chase: Who is your pick in the West finals and East finals and who do you pick to win it all? -Jefe Houston

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:18 PM ET ) As they say in horseracing I am taking the chalk. The Spurs and Pistons are my picks to play in the finals. I believe the pistons will win the championship because of the edge of home court advantage.

Roy (Encino, CA): Senor O'Brien, Whose your top 5 for MVP and your ultimate pick? Thanks. OH! and Don't show east coast bias, since you're an east coast guy. Be fair. Thanks!

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:20 PM ET ) Nash, Nowitzski,Wade, Kobe and James.
My pick to win the MVP is Nash by a nose.

Eric (Newark, NJ): What plausible trades do you see for the Knicks to clean-up the mess?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:23 PM ET ) That is the problem that they have had for a long time. Unless someone is willing to give them something for a player like Marbury or Francis that fits into their plans they are a little stuck. The salaries that these guys have are enormous and their track records will not have teams standing in line with All Stars or Draft Picks.

Eric (Franklin PA): Who do you give the most credit to for the Clippers finally making the playoffs?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:25 PM ET ) I think Baylor and Dunleavy share the credit. Baylor bringing in Mobley and Cassell and Dunleavy's ability to get them to defend has been great..As in all success stories in the NBA the players get it done on the floor and they have done a nice job of bringing every night.

Tom (DC): Jim, would you include the Wizards in the group of up and coming teams? I don't think people realize how good Arenas really is, and Grunfeld is assembling a nice supporting cast in Butler, Daniels, Jamison. What does their future look like?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:27 PM ET ) Yeah. You are probably right. Jordan has done a great job over the last two years. Arenas is a great, great scorer. Teams must have a tough inside presence to take themselves to the next level. That is Grunfields next challenge.

Doug (Cleveland): Has Mike James matured into being a high quality guard or is he just an average player on a bad team? Will he stay in Toronto either way?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:31 PM ET ) I take great pride in watching Mike's success because we gave him his real start in Boston. He is a wonderful young man. He loves the game and wants to be in the gym all day. I love what he is doing from a scoring standpoint. His defeciencies are he is a score first pass second point guard, and his defense is not strong. He will get the mid level. If he wants more I don't see the Raptors keeping him.

Minh (SF, CA): How can smailler teams like Phoenix and Washington win the playoffs or can they? Has there ever been a front court inhibited team that has won a championship?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:33 PM ET ) I do not think a team that has little inside presence can win the championship. They can win a series (Wizards) or two (Suns) but they can't win four series.

Mansa (L.A.): Hey jim. What do you think the lakers chances of beating phoenix are if they play. And do you think this game on sunday is considered a statenent game for them. Thanks.

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:34 PM ET ) I agree with Kobe that Phil has done an outstanding job with what he has but I do not think he has enough to beat the Suns in a best of seven.

Bill (Beantown): Jim - way to screw over Ohio State!

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:35 PM ET ) Wrong guy.

Rich, New York, NY: Hey Jim - what are your thoughts about the NYPost article about Jay Williams getting a look by the Knicks?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:37 PM ET ) I hope Jay Williams will be healthy enough to play for anyone in the league. He is a fine young man. The Knicks need a pure point guard and he would fill the bill if he can go.

Jason (Chicago): Do you think Scott Skiles should be in the running for Coach of the Year? I think he getting over-looked because of the Clips. I think he's doing a great job, considering he doesn't have one "star" player on his team.

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:39 PM ET ) Scott Skiles has done a wonderful job this year but coaches like Avery Johnson, Mike DAntoni etc have done the type of job that gets you the honors. Lawrence Frank has done a great job also.

Aaron (West Laf, IN): What qualifies Dirk, LeBron, and Wade for getting MVP nods over Chauncey, the leader of the leagues best squad? Thanks.

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:40 PM ET ) You are right that was an oversight. Billups has been brillant at running the best team in the league.

bob (san jose): Jim, what do you make of the train wreck that is the warriors?

Joe (NYC): Jim what can the Knigs do in playoffs? I think they can beat Phoenix and take SA to 7 games

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:44 PM ET ) The Kings are a dangerous team. But they are not in the Spurs category. As the playoffs roll around a lot of us want a dark horse to step up and pull a George Mason. It doesn't happen much at the college level and even less at the pro level.

Amon (Dallas, TX): Have you heard anything about Shawn Kemp lately?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:46 PM ET ) Just what I read. He is working out and trying to get his life back in order. I hope tit works out for him whether he plays another game in the league or not.

Gabe Bearsville NY: I cant see the Nets losing a series (unless its a healthy spurs group), whats your take on them?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:48 PM ET ) I think the Pistons could and will beat them in the playoffs if they match up in a series. The Nets have a perimeter that is tough to defend but the Pistons of all the teams in the East can match up with them.
The Pistons also have a big advantage inside. The Pistons in six.

Steve (Dallas): Jim, with the Mavs recent win over the Spurs, when they meet in the second round, will the Mavs have the mental edge knowing they won the last meeting?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:52 PM ET ) I really don't think there is any advantage if you beat your oppositon the last time you play them before the playoffs. It doesn't hurt but it does not give you much of an advantage. If Duncan is healthy the Spurs will be tough to knock out. His health is a big question mark.

Joe (Oil City PA): Would you rather have the top guard, forward, or big man on a team that you were coaching?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:53 PM ET ) I'd rather have the best center and the second best point guard. History shows that you need a dominating big man to win it all.

James (Los Angeles): What do you think Allen Iverson needs to do to get a title? Change his game or his team?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:56 PM ET ) Iverson is a scorer and you can't change that and neither can he. If he is to win a title he must have the help of a tough inside presence on offense and defense and complimentary players that can hit the deep shot to spread the court when he drives.. These other players all must be willing to play team defense and accept a role.

Guilherme, Brazil: Jim, what do you think about the Magicīs latest winning streak? Are they for real?

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:58 PM ET ) I thought the Magic would be a playoff contender this year with a healthy Grant Hill. They have to get through the Hill era. I believe they will be for real for years to come because they have a very good point guard in Nelson and Howard flat out gets it done, at a young age,inside.

SportsNation Jim O'Brien: (4:59 PM ET ) Thanks for the questions. See you next time.

Chat with Chad Ford

Welcome to The Show! On Thursday, ESPN NBA Insider Chad Ford will drop by to take your questions on the season.

SportsNation Chad Ford: Hey everyone, thanks for coming. We'll spend a few minutes on the NBA and spend the bulk of the time on the draft. Let's start with a few NBA questions.

stefan, austria: hey chad!Who is going to be in the playoffs in the east from the 5th seed down? my estimation is something like: 5:indy,6:chicago,7:Washington,8.Milwaukee, with philly missing out on the POs.do you agree?

SportsNation Chad Ford: I think it's going to look like this in the EAst:

1. Pistons
2. Heat
3. Nets
4. Cavs
5. Indiana
6. Washington
7. Milwaukee
8. Chicago

It's a tough call between Philly and Chicago, but I just think the Bulls have a little easier schedule the rest of the way and have been playing better of late.

Phil, LA: What about in the West? Who's in and who's out of the playoffs?

SportsNation Chad Ford: Here it goes.

1. Spurs
2. suns
3. Nuggets
4. Mavs
5. Grizzlies
6. Clippers
7. Lakers
8. Kings

I think the interesting first round match-up is the Clippers-Nuggets. I actually think the Clippers will take them in a 7 game series.

Garrett, Minn: Kobe throws the Lakers on his back and they upset Phoenix in 6 games. I really like Nash and Phoenix is fun to watch (regular season), but I see an explosion from Kobe and the Lakers defense, improved play of Lamar and Kwame, and front line size advantage in the playoffs to much to overcome. How do you feel?

SportsNation Chad Ford: I don't see it. Lakers have overachieved this year thanks to a spectacular season by Kobe and Phil Jackson ... but I think Phoenix is better than you give them credit for. They have too many weapons in a seven game series.

Evan (Ridgewood): Would you be inclined to say that the team with the brightest future is the Orlando Magic? Have they distanced themselves from the other youthful teams?

SportsNation Chad Ford: They look very good, though this recent winning streak has actually hurt them. A few weeks ago they had an 8.8 percent chance of winning the lottery and a likely No. 5 pick in the draft. I think they would've grabbed Brandon Roy or Adam Morrison -- a great fit for that team. Now they have a 0.8 percent chance of winning the lottery and the pickings are much slimmer at the No. 10 pick. Still, they'll add another lottery pick to the mix this summer and then have a lot of cap room in the summer of 2007. The future is bright.

Lance (omaha): Is there a miracle in the world that has the bulls beating the pistons in the 1st round

SportsNation Chad Ford: No, but thanks for asking Lance.

Jim (LA): Do the Nets have a chance at beating the Heat? What about their chances against the Pistons?

SportsNation Chad Ford: I actually like the Nets over the Heat in a 7 game series and think the Nets could push the Pistons to 7 games. But I think the Pistons are going to win it all.

TC Bass (DC): Give me a prediction for the 2006-07 Indiana Pacers roster...Bird said there would be massive changes, and I wonder if that means either Peja or Jermaine O'Neal will be gone next year.

SportsNation Chad Ford: Could be both. The key is whether they can get any value for O'Neal. He's talented and still young enough, but his injury history and lack of leadership have hurt his value. I think the Bulls could be a possibility for both guys if the Pacers just decide to blow it up and go young. Would the Bulls give up their draft picks and a young player like Luol Deng for it? Would the Pacers take it? I don't know, but I do expect big changes there ... the mix just hasn't worked. Stephen Jacksona and Jamaal Tinsley could also be sent packing.

Jesse (Atlanta, GA):: Chad, Josh Smith and Andrei Kirilenko have put up almost identical numbers since the all-star break. With Smith's inspired play, could he be the small forward of the future in Atlanta? Would the Hawks consider trading Marvin this summer to fill holes at other positions?

SportsNation Chad Ford: Smith and Williams have a bright future and I think they can play together at the three and the four. I'd let Al Harrington walk (or do a sign and trade) and I'd see what I could get for Josh Childress and a top draft pick. What they Hawks really need is an athletic up-tempo type of point guard who can help this team gel. An athletic option at center is another need. Joakim Noah would be a good fit if he declares.


Coop (Halifax, NS): Why do you always wanna talk so much about the draft? Especially this year, when everyone sucks. But for real, its just 100% guess work...we don't even know who's got what pick. Let alone who they might take in 4 months.

SportsNation Chad Ford: Glad everyone can agree ... We should get talking about the draft. It doesn't suck. I'm not sure how many superstars there are, but lots of these guys will make NBA rosters and contribute. I think it's interesting this year because there's so much parity. I just wrote a column today about how five different guys could go No. 1. We haven't had that since 2001.

Michael (Tustin, CA): "Potential" is the most dangerous word come draft time. Most kids are nowhere close to being ready for the NBA. It seems that many GMs are praying for a miracle when they make a draft pick. Your take?

SportsNation Chad Ford: It's a gamble sure ... but when I look at some of the "potential" payoffs -- Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal, LeBron James -- what's the gripe. Sure, GMs reach and make mistakes. But in the high lottery, teams are looking for home runs. You don't hit ones if you skip the "P" word. That's why guys like Tyrus Thomas and Andrea Bargnani are ranked ahead of Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick.

Leslie (Springfield, IL): Is there anyone in the draft that can really help the Bulls or do they get to the next level via free agency?

SportsNation Chad Ford: They need a four who can score in the paint and a big, defensive minded two guard. Brandon Roy makes some sense. So does LaMarcus Aldridge. However, I think they're better off getting out of this draft. They have enough young players to build around. They need some veteran help to take the next step.

Dan ( Iowa City, IA): What 3 players are most ready to contribute to a NBA team?

SportsNation Chad Ford: Joakim Noah, Brandon Roy, Randy Foye

SportsNation Chad Ford: The draft of 2000 is the worst in recent memory. Michael Redd, a second round pick, was the best player in the draft. No. 2 was probably Kenyon Martin. After that pick your poison ... Jamaal Magloire? Mike Miller? Darius Miles? Ugh.

kelvin (nyc): quincy douby? 1st rounder?

SportsNation Chad Ford: Possibly. He's a great scorer who also has a sweet shooting touch. I just wonder where he fits. He's undersized and doesn't do much besides score. He doesn't make his teammates better and isn't a great defender. I think he'd be a great sixth man somewhere ... but he plays with the mentality of the No. 1 option. Can he adjust? I'm not convinced.

Bob (Tucson): Do you see either AZ Wildcat going in the 1st round (Adams or Shakur)?

SportsNation Chad Ford: No. Adams has a shot but I think he's a second rounder. Shakur probably goes undrafted.

Derek (NC): Name a player that no one is talking about but could make some noise in the NBA.

SportsNation Chad Ford: Last year my guy was Danny Granger and I think he's acquitted himself well in Indiana. Had he been drafted by a bad team, he'd have been a Top 3 rookie this year I believe. I think Maurice Ager could be better than scouts are giving him credit for. I also think people are underrating Leon Powe because of the injury history. If his knees check out at the pre-draft camp, he could rocket up the boards.

Brian (Memphis, TN): Chad, I was at the Hoop Summit and saw scouts drooling over Saer Sene. Is he a legit late 1st rounder?

SportsNation Chad Ford: I think that's a little premature. Scouts loved him there ... but he's still very raw. Any athletic 7 footer with a 7-8 wingspan should be blocking 9 shots in a high school all-star game. He's a freak athletically, but he's only been playing ball for three years. Usually guys like that take a LONG time to develop. If a team has three or four years to wait ... I say go for it. His upside is awesome. But you have to be realistic with kids like that ... and he's going to have to get some playing experience. That's why I'm a fan of the new D league. I think he's an early second rounder right now ... but it's possible for him to move into the first round. You don't see guys like that come along very often.

james (tallahassee fl): Why isn't Justin Williams getting more consideration? He is exactly like Theo Ratliff and teams have always clamored for him. Your thoughts.

SportsNation Chad Ford: I'm not sure about that. Scouts weren't enamored with him in Porstmouth. He measured a little short, needs to add weight, and needs a better feel. I think Theo was a better prospect. Still, Williams will go somewhere in the second round.

Ryan (Boston, MA): Chad, Gerald Green looks like he'll be able to be a viable scoring option off the bench for the C's next year. With that in theory taken care of, do you think Boston will go for a player like Marcus Williams or Rajon Rondo with their pick to back up Delonte West and replace Orien Greene?

SportsNation Chad Ford: Green has looked very good. The stint in the D league seems to have helped his confidence. I think a point guard is a big need ... just not sure if that's too high for Williams and Rondo. I like both, but I think they're both in the mid first round. Wouldn't be surprised to see them add Brandon Roy. Big guard who can play some point and defense. He's more ready than most of the prospects and can play in the backcourt with West.

Kevin (Phoenix, AZ): Sorry to bring up the race thing, but is "potential" directly related to race? I NEVER hear about white players with upside potential unless they are extremely young and undeveloped. Why do we assume JJ and Morrison can raise their games just as Tyrus Thomas?

SportsNation Chad Ford: I don't think it's about race, I think it's about age. Few young white players declare early. But ... we're hearing potential galore about Josh McRoberts of Duke and heard the same thing about Robert Swift and Darko Milicic. There's just a smaller sample size.

Josh (Nebraska): Where will Redick be drafted?

SportsNation Chad Ford: My guess is still Utah at No. 14. But if they trade the pick or pass on him, he'll go somewhere between 15 and 22.

jordan (weehawken): Who are the top 3 point guards in the draft ?

SportsNation Chad Ford: 1. Marcus Williams, UConn
2. Mardy Collins, Temple
3. Rajon Rondo, Kentucky.

If you consider Randy Foye a point guard then he tops all of them on the list.

Erik (Iowa city, Iowa): Any chance the Knicks are this bad again next year, we sure could use Oden in Chicago?

SportsNation Chad Ford: Yeah, I think there's a great chance of that. It might get worse before it gets better in New York.

Andy(Eugene,OR): I have never really been a Portland fan ever since Clyde the Glide left Oregon, but that doesn't stop me from wondering what they can do to turn the franchise around. They have so much young talent but in the past couple years, the one's they have rid of have become stars (ie, Jermaine). Do they stick with Zach Randolph and build around that. They have obvious talend, but no real leaders or superstars. Maybe go for a dominant guard and solid center?

SportsNation Chad Ford: I think they've got to dump Randolph and Miles. Take the best player in the draft (right now they have the best shot at the No. 1 pick) and then bring in a veteran or two. Too many young players, too much attitude, no real winners on the floor. They have a ton of talent, but talent isn't enough. I think John Nash have done a really shaky job rebuilding this team. No wonder Paul Allen wants to sell.

Jake (Cedar Rapids, IA): Who are a few players in the draft with really high basketball IQ?

SportsNation Chad Ford: Brandon Roy, Al Horford, Adam Morrison all get props in that department. I also here similar things about LaMarcus Aldridge.

SportsNation Chad Ford: I've got to run everyone. It's been fun. We'll do it again next week.

04-14-2006, 03:56 AM
Chat with Monta 'Mavs Killer' Ellis

Welcome to The Show! On Thursday, Golden State Warriors rookie Monta Ellis will stop by to chat!

Ellis has averaged 16.1 minutes off the bench this season, while scoring 5.9 points per game, which is the most among those who entered the 2005 NBA draft directly out of high school. Ellis was selected 40th overall, but has averaged 10.0 points on 47.4 percent shooting in April. The 20-year-old from Jackson, Miss. scored a career-high 17 points in Wednesday's night upset victory over the Mavericks.

Send your questions now and join Monta in The Show on Thursday at 3 p.m. ET, and tune in to ESPN Friday night at 10:30 p.m. ET to see the Warriors take on the Suns!

SportsNation Buzzmaster: Monta will be here momentarily to answer your questions!

jordan (jersey): whats the toughest thing to deal with bieng in the nba ?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: I'd have to say managing my time wisely. The things that I have to do off the court. Becoming a man too quick.

Chad (Ft. Worth): Well Monta....good game last night, you and your team buried my Mavs. Can you give me your take on the "western" race to the finals; Who is strong?; Who is dangerous?; ect.

SportsNation Monta Ellis: There's a lot of teams in the west. Dallas and San Antonio are the top two. But there are a lot of teams out there that are great in the west. If I had to pick one, I'd have to say the Spurs. They have a lot of weapons on the bench and in the starting lineup.

Ron (New York): How did it feel to play spoiler with the Mavs last night? Is it hard to stay upbeat at this point in the season?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: It wouldn't be hard for me, because I haven't played the whole season. I don't know how that feels. Right now, I'm healthy, feeling good. Last night, we just wanted to get over our losing streak.

Rudy, SLO CA: do you hear many comparisons between you and Gilbert Arenas? both drafted high 2nd round by the Warriors, similar style of play

SportsNation Monta Ellis: I hear that a lot. That's a great complement who have seen Gilbert grow into the player he is now. I know that I am going to make it the way that he did.

Matt, CA: Whats up Monta, how come you wear the number 8? Go Warriors.

SportsNation Monta Ellis: The number I wore all my life was 11 but someone had that. I picked 8 because I grew up watching Kobe Bryant and I like his game.

Tom (San Francisco): Monta - Great game last night, you seem to have a very high basketball IQ, why do you think Monty hasn't played you at the point that much? and is that your desired position?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: I really can't answer that question about coach. But the second one, I could play the one or the two, I've played them both in my career. But it really doesn't matter to me where I play. I just want to help my team win.

Barry (Golden State): Did the hurricanes last year affect your hometown back in Mississippi at all?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: Not as bad as it did the Gulf Coast. But the rain and wind came through and knocked a hole in my grandparents' roof. But that's all fixed now.

Jeffrey (Meridian, MS): Monta, I saw you play in person last year against Meridian where you dunked over 3 of our guys. What has been your favorite dunk during your high school or pro career?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: My best dunk? Oh man. I would have to say my best dunk was went I got my second dunk against the Lakers. I went up over Devean George.

gswfan (San Jose, CA): do you hang out with warrior players off the court?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: We're a team. We try to do as much as we can together off the court. We try to take time out and hang out with each other. We try to build our team so we know each other front and back like we've known each other all our lives.

Pat (Denver): What opponent was the best straight up defender you've matched up against?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: I'd say Kobe.

Patrick(Oakland): Monta- Awesome performance last night against a tough team. What do you think it will take for the W's to be in the playoff hunt next year?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: Play like we did last night.

Allen (Saugus, MA): How's it feel to be a rookie in the NBA? Have you adapted yet?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: There's a lot of guys who would love to be in my shoes. I appreciate that a lot. It's great. It's my dream come true.

Joe (Brentwood, CA): Monta you got great skills but what are you going to do this offseason to become even better? If I was you, I would work on a Iverson type crossover.

SportsNation Monta Ellis: I'm going to work on every part of my game and try to workout to get stronger. I'm also going to work on my left hand to get it stronger.

Yoel Los Angeles: Hey Monta! I am 20 years old and always dreamed of playing for a College Basketball Championship. Don't you think you missed out on a great thing like playing in college to head straight to the pros after (H.S.) I think you would've been a REALLY GREAT college player.

SportsNation Monta Ellis: I made the decision because I wanted to accept a bigger challenge. I don't think I missed out on a big thing, because I have a bigger challenge here. I really don't think about it.

Eric (CA): What is it like to go against J-Rich in practice everyday? Does he do a lot of crazy dunks?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: It's great because if he didn't push me in practice like he does, then I wouldn't be playing like I am now. It's a great experience. I just love playing with him.

Topher (Santa Cruz): While in high school, who inspired you to take your game to the next level?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: Chauncey Billups, because he does it on the offensive and defensive ends of the court.

Steve Dallas, TX: How was that game against Dallas last night? Hard, easy, playoff atmosphere?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: It was a playoff type atmosphere. They were going hard, we were going hard. It just feels great like we were playing for a playoff spot.

Dominik (Chicago, IL): What is your MVP for the 05-06 season?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: Hands down. Kobe Bryant.

Alameda, CA: Yo Monta, who gets more chicks, you or Adonal Foyle?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: (laughs) I'm not going to answer that! No comment.

Sam (Ben Lomond): What was it like when you first took the court in the nba?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: It felt great. I was thinking to myself that I made it. It's just your time to prove to everybody that you belong here and I tried to make the best of it. It's always a dream to me to be an NBA player and my dream came true. You can't explain it.

Kirby (San Francisco, CA): The bay and mississippi are two pretty different places. How are you liking the bay area?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: I love it here because of the weather. It's not too hot, not too cold. I don't have to watch my back when I go places.

Nathaniel Gomez: Hi Monta, What would you say is the strongest part of your game and also what do you need to work on the most?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: The strong part of my game is getting to the basket. The part I need to work on is getting my left hand stronger.

Jeff (East Bay, CA): 49ers or Raiders?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: Dallas Cowboys fan until the day I die.

Dave (santa cruz, ca): how would you describe your relationship with assistant coach mario elie?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: Like my high school coach. It's more like a father-son type thing.

Sam (Ben Lomond): What do you think of the fans here in the bay area?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: They're great. There's none in the world like them.

Tom (San Francisco): Monta - What is your favorite restaraunt in the Bay Area?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: Tony Romas.

Dominik (Chicago, IL): When did you start playing basketball?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: When I was five years old.

Ras Creek (Ga): What's the 1st thing you bought with an NBA check?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: I bought my mom a car.

Kevin (Oakland): Great game last night, what are your goals over the next few games when you should be getting considerable playing time?

SportsNation Monta Ellis: Just riding it out and finishing the season and trying to get better every game.

SportsNation Monta Ellis: Keep supporting me and the Warriors. Have a great day and thanks for joining me today.

Who's No. 1, Part 2

By Chad Ford
ESPN Insider

More than a month ago, we wrote that a rather intense debate is emerging concerning the order at the top of the draft.

At the time, we wrote that the three consensus best players in the draft were all forwards: Texas sophomore LaMarcus Aldridge, UConn sophomore Rudy Gay and Gonzaga junior Adam Morrison.

It's amazing how much can change in a month. One player, Gay, has fallen a notch in the opinion of most scouts because of a less than impressive tournament performance. Another, Morrison, also seems to have lost a little traction. Meanwhile, three other players -- LSU's Tyrus Thomas, Florida's Joakim Noah and Italy's Andrea Bargnani -- have inserted themselves in the mix with excellent performances when they matter most.

Of the original three, Aldridge still gets scouts excited. Aldridge projects to be primarily a four in the NBA. Although he still needs to add muscle to a fairly lanky frame, that's the only real knock on his game right now. On offense, he can kill you both facing the basket and with his back to it. He's extremely difficult to guard in transition, and he's a dominant force on the glass.

Morrison is still the sentimental favorite, although he lost a little luster during the tournament. Still, the last college player to come into the league with this much hype was Carmelo Anthony. Morrison does just about everything well. He's a crafty scorer who can light it up from everywhere on the floor. He also has the intangibles down cold. He is a fierce competitor who showed up for the full 40 minutes every night. However, his inability to defend and his general lack of athleticism have worried scouts all year. The closer we get to the draft, the louder those concerns seem to get.

Thomas has passed everyone on our Big Board in the space of a month. At the start of the season, he wasn't in our Top 100. But now scouts feel as though Thomas might be the best prospect in the draft. He isn't nearly as polished as you'd like a No. 1 pick to be, but he's long, is super-athletic, has a great motor and proved in the tournament that he can change the game with his shot blocking and rebounding. He even showed some glimpses of an emerging perimeter game. He's the least ready for the NBA right now but has the highest upside.

Noah's a little tougher to figure out. Scouts love him after one of the most dominant performances in recent tournament history. He's very long, very energetic and showed some emerging offensive prowess in the tournament. Almost as important, Noah's popularity soared, making him almost as well known as Morrison among NBA fans. He's one of the few guys in the draft with star potential, and he's only going to get better. The issue is that Noah has been adamant that he's returning to Florida for his junior season.

If he sticks to his guns, he'll be passing up a great shot at being the No. 1 pick in the draft. That's why scouts are still skeptical about his decision to return to school, and that's why we're still including him in the mix until the April 29 deadline passes.

Bargnani is the dark horse. More and more GMs and American scouts are returning from trips to Italy and raving about him. Several have declared that not only is he the closest thing to Dirk Nowitzki that they've seen but he's also the best prospect in the draft. Bargnani isn't a Euro workout wonder. He's getting regular minutes in the best league outside of the NBA and has had a number of impressive games.

He still needs to add strength and experience, but he's one of the most NBA-ready of the bunch. The question with Bargnani? After the Darko disaster of 2003, does any GM have the guts to pull the trigger on an international player this high in the draft? That international backlash issue has lessened over the last month as Milicic has started to prove in Orlando that Joe Dumars wasn't crazy when he selected him with the No. 2 pick. Still, the hesitancy is there.

Who will go No. 1? As I wrote a month ago, there is no mock draft in the sky that preordains draft order. Despite what GMs like to tell the media, needs do matter. In situations like these, where there are three highly rated players with no clear-cut advantage over the other two, teams usually (Billy Knight, Chris Paul wants to know if you're reading?) look for fit.

Over the past week, Insider talked to scouts or executives from every team projected to be in the draft lottery in an effort to determine what each would do with the No. 1 pick. Some were open; some refused to answer. Here's Insider's take on where each team stands in the five-way debate to determine who's No. 1.

Portland Trail Blazers

Odds of winning the lottery: 25 percent
This is a tough one. The Blazers have players of the future at the three (Darius Miles) and the four (Zach Randolph), and young studs at the point (Sebastian Telfair) and the two (Martell Webster). What to do?

After drafting high school players the last three years and seeing few dividends, it might be time to go with a guy who has a more proven track record. Noah seems like an obvious choice. He has the right attitude; he can play center (the one position where the Blazers are weak); and he's a winner. If Noah is not in the draft, the Blazers would have to decide between Thomas and Morrison. Drafting a local star like Morrison would inject some life into a pretty listless franchise and give the Blazers a pretty serious trading chip on the open market in Miles. Thomas lacks experience, but he has a lot more upside than Randolph. The Blazers made that mistake last year when they passed on Paul because of Telfair. Will they make it again?

Edge: Noah

Charlotte Bobcats

Odds of winning the lottery: 19.9 percent
The Bobcats' biggest need is a swingman who can shoot the rock. GM Bernie Bickerstaff is said to have a fondness for Morrison and Bargnani. Both guys can stroke the ball and score in bunches (although Bargnani is closer to a four than a three). However, don't be surprised if Bickerstaff opts to add another big man to the mix. The best three prospects in the draft are big guys, and Bickerstaff might not want to pass on them. Noah has the type of frantic energy and hustle Bickerstaff loves. Aldridge is a smooth, multidimensional big man -- something the Bobcats don't have. Thomas is a long athlete who rebounds, blocks shots, and flies up and down the floor. The Bobcats have some of that in Okafor and May, but Thomas has more upside than either of them. This is a really tough call ... although the good news for Charlotte is that, unlike last year, any of the top players in the draft might help.

Edge: Bargnani

Chicago Bulls (via the Knicks)

Odds of winning the lottery: 15.6 percent
GM John Paxson is voting for Isiah Thomas as executive of the year. Not only did he take the Bulls' big center with an alleged heart problem off his hands, he gave him what could be the No. 1 pick in the draft this year and possibly next year, as well. The Bulls seem to be set at small forward right now with Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni coming along nicely. What they do need is some height and scoring in the frontcourt. Aldridge appears to be a slam dunk for Chicago if it draws No. 1. However, sources claim Tyrus Thomas is the player Paxson really loves. So ...

Edge: Thomas

Atlanta Hawks

Odds of winning the lottery: 11.9 percent
If history tells us anything, it's that Billy Knight is going to fall in love with Morrison or Gay and draft, for the third consecutive year, a small forward with his lottery pick. In 2004, he grabbed Josh Childress and Josh Smith. In 2005, it was Marvin Williams. This year, a source in Atlanta says Knight's in love with Gay's length, athleticism and upside. But he drafted a similar player last year in Williams. Let's hope he'll learn from his mistakes and go with the guy who could help his team in an area of need.

Unfortunately, the Hawks' two biggest areas of need -- point guard and center -- are pretty thin this year. I think Noah is a lock for Atlanta if he stays in the draft. If he's out, the choice will probably come down to Thomas and Bargnani. Thomas gives the team some great rebounding and shot blocking (although Smith seems as though he can do that, too). Bargnani gives them a versatile four who can score inside and out. It will be a tough choice between those two if Noah isn't in the draft. One European source said the Hawks have been scouting Bargnani heavily this year ... but knowing Knight, he probably sees Thomas as the better fit.

Edge: Noah

Toronto Raptors

Odds of winning the lottery: 8.8 percent
The Raptors could really use a center or a starting two-guard. If Noah is available, he'd be the likely pick for Toronto. If he's not in the draft, the pick is tougher. The Raptors are trying to build around Chris Bosh and Charlie Villanueva, which would appear, on the surface, to preclude their drafting a three or a four. New GM Bryan Colangelo is a big fan of Bargnani, and Morrison's dynamic scoring ability would be a hit in Toronto. If they go either direction, Villanueva, who's really a four masquerading as a three anyway, would make great trade bait in an attempt to land a legit starting center.

Edge: Noah

Golden State Warriors

Odds of winning the lottery: 6.3 percent
The Warriors already have two young small forwards, two young power forwards and one young center, so need isn't going to be the issue. The key is which player is the best fit for the franchise. Morrison doesn't make much sense. He's a scorer who will never touch the ball as long as Baron Davis and Jason Richardson are controlling it. Noah is a better version of Andris Biedrins -- but how much better? Golden State obviously loves Ike Diogu, but Thomas is bigger, more athletic and better suited for the up-tempo game Baron loves to run. Ditto for Aldridge.

Edge: Thomas

Boston Celtics

Odds of winning the lottery: 4.3 percent
The Celtics are set at the four, and they already have Morrison -- his name is Wally Szczerbiak. So what do they do? Noah's a great fit if he's around. He's the exact opposite of Kendrick Perkins and Al Jefferson. If he's not in the draft, Thomas just so happens to be Danny Ainge's type. Long, athletic and oozing upside.

Edge: Noah

Minnesota Timberwolves

Odds of winning the lottery: 2.8 percent
Minnesota has talent at every position, so does it go with the player with the most upside or the player who's ready to come in and contribute right away? Noah's the guy if the Wolves want someone who can come in and match Kevin Garnett's energy and desire to win. Long term, Thomas could be a potent frontcourt partner with Garnett.

Edge: Noah

Houston Rockets

Odds of winning the lottery: 1.7 percent
The Rockets need a tough defensive presence in the post to counter Yao Ming, and Thomas fits the bill. Some will scoff and say they already have Thomas -- his name is Stromile Swift. But Swift's lack of energy has earned him long spells on the pine. Thomas brings all Swift's physical tools and combines them with hustle. It would be a match made in heaven. Aldridge might also make some sense. He's a local kid who can score with his back to the basket.

Edge: Thomas

Seattle Supersonics

Odds of winning the lottery: 1.1 percent
This one's a no-brainer. Now that Chris Wilcox has come in and answered the Sonics' biggest need in the post, it's time to fill their biggest need off the court -- an identity. Ever since Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp left town, the Sonics have been a team searching for a fan base. Morrison is wildly popular in Washington and would draw the fans back into the arena. What happens to Rashard Lewis? His trade value has never been higher. Seattle could easily turn him into a much-needed front-line piece.

Edge: Morrison

Orlando Magic

Odds of winning the lottery: 0.8 percent
Here's another team I think will have a pretty clear-cut preference. The team is set in the frontcourt with a combination of Dwight Howard and Darko Milicic, and the Magic have a young emerging backcourt player in Jameer Nelson. If they could add Noah to that tandem, they'd be crazy not to. No one could touch Orlando in the paint. If Noah's not in the draft, the Magic might go small.

With Grant Hill nearing the end of his tenure in Orlando, it will be time to start thinking about a long-term replacement. Trevor Ariza is a nice player, but he doesn't hold a candle to Gay or Morrison. I think the defining factors for the Magic will be two things. (1) Although the frontcourt shows a ton of defensive potential, neither Howard nor Milicic is outstanding offensively yet. Adding some offensive firepower to the frontcourt will be important. (2) Like a lot of teams, the Magic are still trying to find an identity. Morrison brings both things to the table.

Edge: Morrison

Philadelphia 76ers

Odds of winning the lottery: 0.7 percent
The Sixers have a lot of talent, but none of it meshes. If they still believe in Samuel Dalembert, they'll probably want to stay away from Noah and Thomas. Morrison doesn't make much sense. That brings it down to Aldridge and Bargnani. I think Bargnani could be the guy. Although he's not a better shooter than Kyle Korver, he's a much better player, and that will mean something in the long run.

Edge: Bargnani

New Orleans Hornets

Odds of winning the lottery: 0.6 percent
After giving up Jamaal Magloire and losing Chris Andersen to a drug suspension, the Hornets lack that super-athletic defensive presence that can rebound and block shots. This one is easy. Thomas is from Louisiana and would be a perfect fit on a young, up-and-coming Hornets team.

Edge: Thomas

Utah Jazz

Odds of winning the lottery: 0.5 percent
The Jazz's real need is at the two, and the word on the street is that J.J. Redick's their man if he's still on the board when they pick. If they beat all odds and win the lottery, there's no clear-cut pick here. They could use some more athleticism in the paint, and Thomas and Noah both fit. The team also needs a go-to scorer who can shoot with range. Morrison's the only guy who fits the bill in the department.

Edge: Morrison

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

04-16-2006, 12:21 AM
The 2005-06 All-Energy Team

by: Matt Wong
posted: Friday, April 14, 2006 | Feedback

In case you're tired of talking about the MVP race, let's give some love to players who are also vital to their teams' success: energy guys.

These are the guys who major in hustle and hard work, who know their roles and who make you respect them no matter how ugly certain parts of their games might be.

Coaches, scouts and even players use the term energy guys all the time. Nets GM Ed Stefanski already has said he'll be on the lookout for these very players come draft time.

Here's our All-Energy Team:

Bobby Jackson, G, Grizzlies
He keeps going and ... OK, you know his game by now. This season, he helped fill the void when Damon Stoudamire went down for the year. But the ultimate compliment is that guys are patterning their game after him now. Said Jazz rookie Andre Owens: "I try to be like Bobby Jackson. A guy that brings defense, gets the team going and makes plays."

Manu Ginobili, G, Spurs
Name another star guard who plays like Ginobili. He hasn't been the same out-of-control-yet-somehow-still-in-control freak this season due to injuries, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich still knows his value. "Guys that are that active make a team stay excited and stay focused," Popovich said. "So [Ginobili] is our best energy guy in that regard."

Ben Wallace, C, Pistons
His refusal to go back in the game last week is somewhat alarming, but there's still no denying Big Ben's work ethic. "He's the guy setting the screens and getting people into open spots," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said earlier this season, "but he's not getting any of the recognition or credit. His work goes largely unnoticed."

Shane Battier, F, Grizzlies
Mr. Everything is often considered the glue to the Grizz, even drawing comparisons to Ben Wallace. Said Saunders: "He is kind of like their Ben. Ben is our energy guy, and Shane is theirs."

Gerald Wallace, F, Bobcats
You don't average over two blocks and two steals per game without bringing energy on each play. Wallace has been all over the court -- and diving into the stands -- all season. Said Wolves coach Dwane Casey: "He's the heart and soul of his team with the way he plays."

The rest who don't rest:

Monta Ellis, G, Warriors
Fearless rook is one of the few Warriors worthy of wearing the lightning bolt.

Reggie Evans, F, Nuggets
Goes after the ball with such reckless abandon that he often fights his own teammates for rebounds.

Eduardo Najera, F, Nuggets
See above. Only with sharper elbows and more floor burns.

Andres Nocioni, F, Bulls
The second-year forward from Argentina is a Scott Skiles special, bringing energy even when away from Chi-town. He averages 13.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg on the road compared to 12.1 ppg and 5.7 rpg at home.

Ruben Patterson, F, Nuggets
The Nuggets are 15-9 since he and Evans came to Denver. His nickname isn't Captain Chaos for nothing.

Nate Robinson, G, Knicks
May actually have too much energy. The reigning dunk champ bounces all over the court with passion, which makes the Garden roar and Larry Brown shake his head.

Anderson Varejao, C, Cavs
"He gives 110 percent out there on the court and gives 175 percent energy," LeBron James said recently, which oughta make up for all the time he missed with a bum shoulder earlier in the season.

Avery Johnson, coach
The Little General didn't let up even while leading a practice session for the West squad at the All-Star Game. That says it all.

Hollinger: King James reigns

posted: Sunday, April 9, 2006 | Feedback

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- My how things can change. Less than a month ago, I made an MVP case for Dwyane Wade that I thought was ironclad. I really didn't think there was any way that another player could do so well over the final month that he'd surpass Wade in terms of overall value for the season.

Having watched LeBron James single-handedly end the Nets' 14-game winning streak in the Meadowlands on Saturday, it's obvious that I spoke too soon. From out of nowhere, James has shot himself into the discussion and may very well end up winning the trophy. That's quite a shift, since nobody held James's MVP stock in very high regard over the first half of the season. It appeared the Cavs would end up with a win total in the low 40s and James himself struggled mightily in some late-game situations.

But thanks to a late, LeBron-fueled surge, the Cavs aren't headed for a humdrum 43-39 campaign but rather something much closer to 50 wins -- they'll hit the half-century mark with a 4-2 finish, which would seem well within the club's reach. That's an impressive accomplishment considering Larry Hughes and Anderson Varejao both missed roughly half the season.

Then there are the late-game situations. While James had some struggles earlier in the year, he's been money of late. For instance, Saturday's comeback win over New Jersey included an insane play by LeBron to tie the game in the final minute. With his club down by three, he took a steal and zoomed upcourt. Three different Nets grabbed his right arm to prevent him from shooting, but James was so strong that he muscled through all of them and put the shot up softly off the board for a basket and foul. Other than Shaq, I can't think of a single other player in the league with the strength to get that ball near the rim, much less convert the shot.

That play was the signature moment in a 37-point, seven-rebound, five-assist performance -- including 18 points in the fourth quarter -- that allowed the Cavs to end the league's longest winning streak even with center Zydrunas Ilgauskas sidelined. It was the latest salvo in an incredibly strong finishing kick that has seen James zoom to the top of the Player Efficiency Rating charts and stake his claim for the MVP trophy.

The numbers he's been putting up of late are simply phenomenal. The man hasn't been held under 25 in over a month. He's scored 35 points or more in nine straight games, and in the month of April he's averaging 38.4 points a game on 55.4 percent shooting. Throw in the improved clutch play, and the fact that he's played far more minutes than any of the other candidates, and James has suddenly positioned himself near the top of the MVP debate.

I'm not the only one frothing at the mouth about his crazy stats either -- before the game Nets coach Lawrence Frank went Elias Sports Bureau on us and mentioned that James is on pace to be the fourth player in league history to average at least 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists in a season. The others were Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Michael Jordan.

Of course, a lot of water still can go under the bridge in the season's final 10 days. Dirk Nowitzki will be tough to ignore if Dallas takes the top record in the West, Kobe Bryant has a talentless Laker team headed to the playoffs, and even with his recent mini-slump Wade hasn't completely fallen out of the picture.

But after witnessing James's maestro performance in New Jersey Saturday, and having seen what he's accomplished over the past several weeks, I'm pondering a change in my MVP allegiance. As good as the others have been this season, it's becoming increasingly clear that King James is ready to begin his reign.

Great Scott!

Chris Broussard
posted: Wednesday, April 12, 2006 | Feedback

"Here, here'' to my man Ric Bucher. I'm sick of talking about the MVP race as well. Just give the trophy to LeBron and call it a day!

Bucher and I go way back. We used to have knockdown, drag-out three-on-three hoop games back in the mid-'90s. Mike Wise (now of Washington Post fame), Shaun Powell (the outstanding Newsday columnist) and myself used to battle Bucher, Jerry Bembry (now my colleague at The Mag) and Matt Steinmetz (former G-State Warriors beat writer -- devastating J) to the death.

Bucher's a sore loser, by the way. He wouldn't talk to his teammates or me for hours after we'd beat them.

I've hooped with all your favorite sports writing personalities, at least the ones that play: Stephen A., Marc Stein, Frank Hughes, Marc Spears, Chris Palmer, Chris Ballard and Marty Burns of SI, Rick Telander, the up-and-coming Israel Gutierrez. Catch me on the streets one day and I'll tell you who can and can't ball.

Anyway, with the MVP thing all settled, I'll turn my attention to Coach of the Year. This one is as tight as the aforementioned postseason award.

The candidates: Byron Scott of NO/Okla. City, Avery Johnson of Dallas, Mike D'Antoni of Phoenix, Flip Saunders of Detroit and Mike Dunleavy of the LA Clips.

My winner: Byron.

In a year where we've heard esteemed coaches pout about not having their type of players -- I ain't saying no names! -- Scott simply took what he had and made the best out of it.

He took a roster that just about everyone regarded as the worst in the league during the preseason and had it fighting for a playoff spot out West. In the East, the Hornets would be vying for the 6th seed.

A rookie, Chris Paul, is Scott's leader, and previously unknown David West is his leading scorer and go-to guy down the stretch. An excellent job of maximizing talent indeed.

Not to mention the tragedy the team had to overcome in Hurricane Katrina. Playing in four different home arenas, the Hornets had every reason to feel sorry for themselves and quit, or at least play uninspired. But Scott never let that happen.

Scott also put youngster J.R. Smith in his place.

Scott handled his unfair ousting from Jersey with class. He never fired back when his reputation was besmirched (like that word?) on his way out the door. Rumors spread that he didn't watch film, that he didn't work hard, that his assistants, Lawrence Frank and Eddie Jordan, ran everything.

No matter what was going on in Jersey, Scott should have gotten credit for the victories and the two trips to the Finals. All head coaches do.

When Larry Bird used Rick Carlisle and Dick Harter as offensive and defensive coordinators, letting them run his team, he was named Coach of the Year. When Scott did it, he was vilified as a numbskull.

Scott's coaching ability never should have been in question, but this year he's proved to all his doubters that he can coach on his own. It's good to see him redeemed.

04-16-2006, 12:37 AM
Monta Ellis, G, Warriors
Fearless rook is one of the few Warriors worthy of wearing the lightning bolt.It's true. It takes a special person to wear that lightning bolt--tradition being what it is, and all.

Anderson Varejao, C, Cavs
"He gives 110 percent out there on the court and gives 175 percent energy," LeBron James said recently, which oughta make up for all the time he missed with a bum shoulder earlier in the season.If he gives 175 percent of the available energy, what is it he gives 110 percent of? Whatever it is, it needs to get in line with the energy!