2007 NBA Draft Class – Grades & Analysis: Do Kevin Durant and Al Horford departures re-write history?

Kevin Durant
Conjuring memories of their much-maligned Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan draft decision in the 1980s, the Portland Trail Blazers’ like-minded selection of injury-plagued big man Greg Oden over superstar small forward Kevin Durant with the top pick in the 2007 NBA Draft will forever live in infamy. 

Oden’s career spanned…parts of three NBA seasons. Durant won an MVP award and four scoring titles while leading the Oklahoma City Thunder (still the Seattle Supersonics when they drafted him) to four appearances in the Western Conference Finals and one in the NBA Finals.

But a lot can happen in nine years, and although the Thunder and the Atlanta Hawks got great production out of their top 3 draft picks in 2007—Durant and big man Al Horford, respectively—they just lost both stars for nothing in free agency during the 2016 offseason. In that sense, the “winner” of the 2007 draft isn’t so clear-cut. In fact, if you look at today’s Trail Blazers, they’re in fairly similar shape as the Thunder despite choosing Oden over Durant.

Nine years later, we grade the top 10 picks of the 2007 NBA Draft, identify some hidden gems, and reflect on some lessons we learned. The big question: Do this summer's free agency departures of Durant, Horford, and Joakim Noah "re-write" the history of good draft picks for their former teams?

2007 NBA DRAFT GRADES: TOP 10 PICKS

1. Portland Trail Blazers: Greg Oden

Grade: D

Why not an F for the Blazers here, given that Oden couldn’t stay on the court and the guy they passed up, Durant, at one time was considered an undisputed top-2 player in the league before the rise of Stephen Curry? Well, while you can blame Portland for choosing the wrong player in the Oden vs. Durant pre-draft debate, it wasn’t an outlandish selection at the time. The Blazers made the pick in an era—unlike today’s NBA—when elite big men were still presumed to be a ticket to the championship. So their pick doesn’t get the lowest-possible grade.

2. Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder): Kevin Durant

Grade: A

KD put Oklahoma City on the NBA map with career averages of 27.4 points, 7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. Will his departure to the Golden State Warriors in free agency, in turn, crush OKC? The Thunder were able to extend fellow superstar Russell Westbrook’s contract this summer, thus maintaining some character from the Durant era and charting a new course for the franchise that might still lead to contender status down the road. As for the 2007 draft pick itself, although they’re now left with nothing, they got nine great years out of Durant.

3. Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford

Grade: A

Just like Durant, Horford left the only NBA team he ever knew this offseason after nine productive years—14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Those stats don’t really do Horford justice, as they don’t reveal his impact on defense, his development of an effective outside shot in recent years, and his broader contributions towards making the Hawks a perennial playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Despite Horford leaving for Boston, the Hawks—who replaced him at center with Dwight Howard—should remain a playoff team in the East. For that, they can thank the culture of success they built during the Horford era.

4. Memphis Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Jr.

Grade: A

Akin to Horford, Conley’s career stats with Memphis—13.6 points and 5.6 assists per game—don’t tell the whole story of his contributions to the franchise, which has found stability at the point guard spot and has become a perennial playoff team just like the Hawks. Unlike the Hawks with Horford and the Thunder with Durant, Memphis will benefit from further continuity from their successful 2007 draft pick after re-signing Conley to a long-term contract this offseason. The Grizzlies also deserve credit for being patient with Conley during a few leaner years for team and player alike earlier in his career, allowing Memphis to maximize its asset in the long run.

5. Boston Celtics: Jeff Green (traded to Seattle for Ray Allen)

Grade for Boston: A+

Grade for Seattle (now Oklahoma City): B+ 

This one gets a bit complicated. The Celtics drafted Green and then traded him as part of a package to get Ray Allen, who teamed with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to win a championship in the star trio’s first season together. Just for that one championship, the trade was well worth it for Boston, especially because Green—while not a bust—has never developed into a star. You also can’t blame the Thunder (then Supersonics) for that trade, given that Allen didn’t fit into the team’s youth/rebuilding movement at the time. Green had a few productive seasons as part of the Thunder’s core before they traded him—ironically, to Boston—for center Kendrick Perkins, who had an up-and-down tenure with OKC but was part of their team that reached the 2012 NBA Finals. A Finals appearance isn’t a championship, so the Celtics won the 2007 trade. The question for the Thunder is, could they have gotten more for Ray Allen?

6. Milwaukee Bucks: Yi Jianlian

Grade: D

Perhaps looking for the next Yao Ming, Milwaukee gambled on Chinese big man Yi, who only played one season for the Bucks and five seasons in the NBA (with career averages of 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game). A safer big man choice for Milwaukee in this draft could’ve been Joakim Noah, who was coming off back-to-back national championships with the Florida Gators, or even Spencer Hawes. They did display some courage with the Yi pick, so for that, they avoid an F grade.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Corey Brewer

Grade: B-

The lanky Brewer, though not a star, did turn into a good role player and defender at the swingman positions. Unfortunately for Minnesota, his skills were ultimately more valuable to a contender than to a rebuilding franchise. But when you look at the players selected after him, you can’t really say the Wolves missed out on much by choosing Brewer.

8. Charlotte Bobcats: Brandan Wright (traded to Golden State for Jason Richardson)

Grade for Charlotte: C

Grade for Golden State: C

In another trade within the 2007 draft’s top 10, both teams weren’t vastly affected. The Bobcats wanted an established scorer and got one in Richardson, though he didn’t translate into more wins and was traded again in just his second year with Charlotte. The Warriors, coming off an epic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, couldn’t find enough minutes and touches for all their wing scorers, so they dealt one of them for what they hoped would be added dimensions of defense and athleticism in their frontcourt. But Wright, the high-upside North Carolina product, could never stay healthy. You can’t blame either team for their logic in making the trade, but the move just didn’t move the needle for anyone.

9. Chicago Bulls: Joakim Noah

Grade: A

Like Durant and Horford, Noah left the only team he had played for in free agency this summer. But also like Durant and Horford, he spent nine season as the heart and soul of a franchise. Chicago scored a couple of top seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but not a Finals appearance, during the Noah era—largely thanks to the center’s defensive intensity and all-around game. Like former Bulls teammate and now Knicks teammate Derrick Rose, Noah was eventually derailed by injuries. But his time with Chicago will be remembered fondly, and he was a good value pick at No. 9.

10. Sacramento Kings: Spencer Hawes

Grade: C+

The offensive-minded big man spent three mildly productive seasons in Sacramento (peaking at 11.4 points and 7 rebounds a game in year two) before the Kings traded him to Philadelphia. He has never averaged more than 13.5 points per game, but has improved his 3-point shot over time, making him a potential asset coming off the bench for contending teams. The center the Kings traded him for, Sam Dalembert, was an improvement on the defensive end but only spent one season in Sacramento. Perhaps the Kings could’ve gotten more out of the Hawes pick.

2007 NBA DRAFT PICK HIDDEN GEMS 

27. Arron Afflalo: The 3-and-D shooting guard started slow but has ended up with a productive career, averaging 11.6 points per game and 38.5 percent shooting from deep for five teams. Joined his sixth team, Sacramento, this offseason.

28. Tiago Splitter: In typical Spurs fashion, San Antonio found a solid international player with a relatively low draft pick. The Brazilian center started for the Spurs’ 2013-14 championship team, but was eventually traded to Atlanta to make room for the signing of LaMarcus Aldridge.

31. Carl Landry: This journeyman power forward can score—10.8 points in 22.5 minutes per game for his career—but has seen his relevance drop in recent years with losing teams in Sacramento and Philadelphia.

35. Glen Davis: “Big Baby” won a championship with Boston as a rookie and contributed to subsequent contending Celtics squads, including 11.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in 2010-11, before he was traded to Orlando for Brandon Bass in a lateral move for both teams. The rest of his career was plagued by injuries.

48. Marc Gasol: The true hidden gem of this draft was an afterthought while getting traded to Memphis as part of a package for his own brother, Pau. But the younger Gasol’s career is hardly an afterthought, as Marc developed into one of the best two-way centers in the league, a franchise cornerstone for the Grizzlies, and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.

2007 NBA DRAFT ANALYSIS: LESSONS LEARNED

A good draft pick can change a franchise—even if the player eventually leaves

Durant (Thunder), Horford (Hawks), and Noah (Bulls) all left their teams in 2016 free agency, leaving the squads that drafted them with nothing in return. But they all gave their initial franchises nine solid years and changed the cultures of those teams for the better. The Thunder, Hawks, and Bulls are all better off for having those players—even in their current absence. In that sense, free agency departures years later don’t re-write the history of a good draft pick.

It’s no longer a big man’s league

What if Greg Oden actually stayed healthy? Would he have been the right pick over Durant? Doubtful. During Oden’s brief time on the court, he showed glimpses of potential, but nothing near the superstardom of KD. Durant, as it turns out, would have been a better pick for the Blazers not just because of his health, but because of his significance as an elite wing scorer in an era that has increasingly de-emphasized offensively challenged big men like Oden.

Time can heal the wounds of a bad draft pick

Yes, the Blazers were set back by choosing Oden over Durant, but nine years later they’re in essentially the same position as the team that scored KD. Portland weathered the free agency loss of LaMarcus Aldridge to make a surprising run to the second round of the playoffs this past season. Oklahoma City, coming off a Conference Finals appearance, lost Durant to Golden State and now actually seems to be in the same boat as Portland talent-wise. That being said, not picking Durant in 2007 is still a haunting “What if?” scenario for the Blazers.

Carmelo Anthony is not the Michael Phelps of Olympic basketball

Carmelo Anthony competes for USA Basketball in 2012
When it comes to individual legacies in basketball, the yardstick is Michael Jordan. In swimming, the yardstick is Michael Phelps. We already know that Carmelo Anthony is no Jordan. But lately, the legacy conversation he has entered has more to do with Phelps.

Let me explain. Phelps has used the 2016 Rio Olympics to surpass 20 career gold medals between individual and relay races, strengthening his case as the greatest Olympian ever (we won’t get into any debates here regarding how swimming provides Phelps with more medal opportunities than elite Olympians in other sports). Anthony, meanwhile, on Wednesday became the all-time leading scorer in USA Basketball history with a 31-point performance—including nine 3-pointers—in the Americans’ tougher-than-expected 98-88 win over Australia. 

 

Carmelo Anthony the All Star

 

Carmelo is a perennial NBA All-Star and an elite scorer, averaging nearly 25 points a game during his 13-year career. The Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks built their teams around him. But Anthony’s individual statistical success hasn’t been met with team success in the playoffs. His squads have advanced to the second round just twice and to the Conference Finals once, and never to the NBA Finals. He isn’t done yet, but as things currently stand, Carmelo’s NBA legacy places him on a level below his fellow 2003 NBA Draft superstars, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Carmelo’s legacy—for now—is akin to stars like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, who have been elite players at their positions but haven’t won championships.

 

Melo's International Olympic Legacy

 

But during the Rio Olympic Games, some NBA commentators are beginning to argue that Carmelo’s status as the elder statesmen of USA Basketball might elevate his basketball legacy. He’s a leading NBA talent but an even better talent as a power forward in international basketball, the logic goes, given how larger players can’t adequately defend him at the 4 spot and how he can still guard them at the other end of the floor. What results is the ultimate mismatch—a mismatch that produces results like Anthony’s 37 points in 14 minutes against Nigeria at the 2012 London Olympics, and his clutch performance this week to help Team USA avoid an upset against Australia. Given his dominance while playing alongside fellow NBA superstars at the Olympics, the commentators believe that the international game might not just enhance, but also define Carmelo’s basketball legacy. After all, there’s a Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, not just an NBA Hall of Fame. 

Is the argument valid? Not in this commentator’s opinion. Tim Duncan won five NBA championships and no Olympic gold medals. Anthony is on the verge of his third Olympic gold, but has no NBA championships and isn’t expected to win one anytime soon. Is there anyone who’s going to argue that Anthony’s basketball legacy is superior or even equal to Duncan’s?

 

NBA Championships vs Olympic Basketball

 

I’ll remember NBA stars for what they did in the NBA, not at the Olympics. For USA Basketball, winning the gold is not just an accomplishment. It’s a requirement—given the American roster’s superior talent from top to bottom, anything less than gold is considered a huge failure. That was the case in Athens for the 2004 American hoops team, which lost three games and settled for a bronze medal. Anthony, by the way, was part of that team. That doesn’t necessarily tarnish his international basketball legacy, because he played a small role on the 2004 squad and a much larger role on the 2008 and 2012 gold medal-winning American teams as well as on this year’s team. Yet his Olympic basketball prowess doesn’t change anything about his failure, thus far, to deliver an NBA championship. The competition is much tougher in the NBA, and on that stage, Carmelo is a flawed superstar.

 

Melo vs Phelps

 

In swimming, the Olympics are the highest level of competition and gold medals there are the highest honor in the sport. The same can’t be said for what Olympic basketball means in the context of basketball in general. That’s why Michael Phelps is the gold standard in swimming, and it’s why Carmelo’s accomplishments at the Olympics are notable but shouldn’t be overstated. If he wants to re-write his basketball legacy, Carmelo needs to win more at the highest level.

2009 NBA Draft: Positions still matter

The Clippers (Blake Griffin), Warriors (Stephen Curry), and Raptors (DeMar Derozan) got franchise cornerstones. So did the Thunder with James Harden, but they eventually traded him away in a much-maligned move. Minnesota controversially stocked up on point guards, and unfortunately for the Wolves, none of those point guards were named Steph Curry.

Seven years later, we look back on the 2009 NBA Draft—grading the top 10 picks, identifying the hidden gems, and reflecting on some lessons we learned.

 

2009 NBA Draft Grades: TOP 10 PICKS

 

1. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin

Grade: A

Griffin missed his first season due to injury, but once healthy he became an instant stud in the Clippers’ frontcourt, electrifying fans with his dunking and posting 21.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game in six seasons. He has the chance to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016-17 season. Griffin was the conventional pick for the Clippers and has lived up to the hype, even if his star doesn’t shine as bright as that of the top player in this draft, Curry. Some criticize his game for having more style than substance, but together with Chris Paul he has elevated the Clippers to relevance…just not further than the second round of the playoffs.

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet

Grade: F

The 7-foot-3 big man was a certified bust, putting up paltry stats in just a season and a half in Memphis and never catching on in subsequent stops in Houston, Portland, and Oklahoma City. Even worse, the Grizzlies chose Thabeet despite having their current star center, Marc Gasol, already on the roster. Memphis still become a perennial playoff team, but missed the chance to become an even stronger contender by striking out on the second overall pick.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: James Harden

Grade: A

Before becoming the superstar he is today, Harden was the Sixth Man of the Year and made it to an NBA Finals with the Thunder. Attempting to avoid the luxury tax, OKC dealt The Beard to Houston for a package of players and picks that yielded only one valuable contributor for the Thunder—defensive-minded center Steven Adams. Like Griffin, Harden isn’t quite the superstar that Curry is, but he’s an elite all-around player (on the offensive end) and was the right pick for OKC’s emerging young core at the time. So for the pick itself, they get an A. In trading Harden three years later, the Thunder misjudged the future spike in the NBA salary cap. Looking back, the big bucks they paid to retain big man Enes Kanter in restricted free agency could’ve gone to Harden. At least they salvaged Adams, who is likely their starting 5 for years to come, from a draft pick they received in the Harden deal.

4. Sacramento Kings: Tyreke Evans

Grade: B-

Evans showed great potential as a tall point guard in his first season, averaging solid all-around numbers of 20.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds a game. With Blake Griffin injured, he even won the Rookie of the Year award. Yet Evans peaked early, maintaining decent all-around stats throughout his seven seasons but never surpassing his rookie campaign. After four seasons, Sacramento shipped him to New Orleans in a sign-and-trade deal that netted no major pieces for the Kings. Though the 2009 draft pick looked good at first, Sacramento might’ve been better off choosing a more pure distributing point guard.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio

Grade: B

The Spanish point guard spent two more years overseas before joining the Wolves. Once in the NBA, he instantly became an effective and entertaining distributor at the 1, but has struggled to stay healthy and has never improved his weak shooting. Minnesota scores some points on the draft grade for still retaining Rubio today. Even though drafting point guard Kris Dunn with their latest selection means the franchise is essentially pulling the plug on the Rubio experiment, Rubio is a tradable asset on a reasonable contract (4 years, $56 million).

6. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jonny Flynn

Grade: F

After choosing Rubio, the Wolves shockingly selected another point guard one pick later. Too bad it wasn’t Curry, who enters the next NBA season as the two-time defending league MVP. Curry’s historically great 3-point shooting would look pretty good next to the shooting-deficient Rubio in Minnesota’s backcourt right now, wouldn’t it? Flynn got to start as a rookie while Rubio stayed overseas, averaging 13.5 points a game that season but quickly flaming out in his second year—even before Rubio arrived to take his place. Perhaps it’s too easy to blast the Wolves for not choosing Curry. Their real mistake was picking point guards with back-to-back selections (not to mention another 1, Ty Lawson, with the 18th pick before trading him to Denver). Getting help at a different position would’ve been the sensible thing to do.

7. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry

Grade: A+

Two MVPs, one championship, the best regular season in NBA history, and possibly already the best shooter in league history after only seven seasons. Need we say more? Oh right, forgot one thing…he’s making $12 million this coming season. That’s $3 million less than Timofey Mozgov.

8. New York Knicks: Jordan Hill

Grade: D-

With their fans demoralized after missing out on Curry by one spot, there isn’t much the Knicks could’ve done here to soften the blow. It was true on draft night and it’s even more true seven years later, given how Curry’s career has played out. Jordan Hill is far from exciting, but he has developed into a decent role player in this league at either frontcourt position. It’s hard to give the Knicks an F because they didn’t choose to miss out on Curry. But the minus attached to their D is for trading him just 24 games into his New York career. Hill wouldn’t have been the Knicks’ game-changer, but dealing with so quickly means they got nothing from this pick.

9. Toronto Raptors: DeMar Derozan

Grade: A

The swingman has averaged 18 points a game in seven years with the Raptors, including a career-high 23.5 last season. The franchise locked him up for the long run with a new contract this summer, following an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. Looking back, there wasn’t a better player than Derozan selected after the ninth pick in 2009, so there’s no criticizing any aspect of this choice for the Raptors.

10. Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings

Grade: A-

Like Tyreke Evans, Jennings didn’t see much progress after his productive rookie season (15.5 points, 5.7 assists per game). Most disconcerting is a .390 shooting percentage for his career. So what earns the Bucks an A- grade here? After four seasons, they turned Jennings into Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton in a sign-and-trade deal with the Pistons. They later turned Knight into Michael Carter-Williams and Miles Plumlee. The jury is still out on Carter-Williams and Plumlee, but Middleton is now a fixture in the Bucks’ starting lineup as a solid 3-point shooter with great size (6-foot-8) at either swingman position.

 

2009 NBA DRAFT PICK HIDDEN GEMS 

 

19. Jeff Teague: 12.1 points and 5.2 assists per game for his career; traded to Indiana in the offseason after previously playing only for Atlanta, the team that drafted him.

21. Darren Collison: Another productive point guard in this point guard-rich draft; 12.6 points and 4.9 assists per game while alternating between starting and backup roles; should start in Sacramento this season after Rajon Rondo departed in free agency.

23. Omri Casspi: The Israeli forward bounced around the league for a few years but returned to the Kings, the team that drafted him, and just enjoyed his best season (11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, 40.9 percent shooting from 3-point range).

26. Taj Gibson: 9.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game for his career—so far all with Chicago—while alternating starting and backup roles; this will be a contract year for the power forward, and his time with the retooling Bulls may soon come to an end.

27. DeMarre Carroll: 3-and-D small forward who bounced around the league before breaking out as a starter in his fifth and sixth seasons, including a campaign of 12.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game during the Hawks’ surprise 60-win season in 2014-15; cashed in with a long-term contract in Toronto.

42. Patrick Beverley: Now entrenched as the starting point guard in Houston; won’t stuff the stat sheet, but is a pesky defender and decent 3-point shooter (37.3 percent for career).

46. Danny Green: After one season in Cleveland, found a long-term home in San Antonio and turned himself into the Spurs’ starter at shooting guard, nailing 40.3 percent for his career from 3-point range and hitting a scorching 55 percent from deep in the 2013 Finals against Miami; won a title in a 2014 Finals rematch with the Heat.

55. Patty Mills: Another point guard and another Spurs’ mainstay; plays a starring role on Australia’s national team and a solid backup role in the NBA; 10.2 points in less than 20 minutes per game during San Antonio’s 2013-14 title campaign; 39-percent shooter from 3 for his career.

 

2009 NBA DRAFT ANALYSIS: LESSONS LEARNED

 

Positions matter

Versatility is highly valued in today’s NBA, the Warriors have dominated the league with an unconventional small-ball “Death Lineup,” and teams are often advised to draft the “best player available regardless of position. But the 2009 draft reminds us that conventional NBA positions exist for a reason and that positional fits shouldn’t be completely ignored in the draft. The Grizzlies were enticed by Hasheem Thabeet’s size even though Marc Gasol was already showing flashes of being their long-term answer at center. Minnesota’s stunning selection of back-to-back point guards is probably the most memorable—and infamous—moment of this draft. If one of those selections were Steph Curry, the Wolves inefficient drafting could have been forgiven. But as it stands, they passed up a transformational superstar for not one, but two lesser players at the same position, while failing to help their roster at multiple spots.

Continuity matters

While player movement is all the rage in the NBA offseason and at the February trade deadline, the 2009 draft produced some stars who have bucked that trend. For Curry and Golden State, Griffin and Los Angeles, and Derozan and Toronto, continuity has been a benefit for player and team alike. Curry’s Warriors won a title and built a superteam, while the Clippers and Raptors aren’t elite teams, but are consistent playoff contenders with the help of Griffin and Derozan.

Don’t judge a player by his rookie season

Tyreke Evans looked like a star as a rookie, but never progressed. The same goes for Brandon Jennings. Curry was also solid as a rookie (17.5 points and 5.9 assists per game), yet nobody could have imagined the scope of his current superstardom. Jordan Hill looked like a bust with the Knicks, who swiftly traded him, but he turned into a serviceable big man. Danny Green and Patty Mills looked irrelevant as rookies in Cleveland and Portland, respectively, but became valuable contributors with San Antonio.

The next Michael Jordan? What about the next Tim Duncan?

3299457410_eb020f576b_oEver since Michael Jordan retired—for the second of three times—in 1999, NBA fans and executives have been entranced by a perpetual search for the next Michael Jordan. He might have been staring them right in the face the entire time.

In debates about the most Jordanesque players of the post-Jordan era, the most commonly invoked names are Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Bryant played the same shooting guard position as Jordan, won five championships, and was known for his killer instinct in the clutch. Upon retiring after this season, he finished with the third-most points in NBA history—right ahead of Jordan. But the fact that Bryant shared with spotlight with Shaquille O'Neal for his first three titled with the Lakers—or, one could argue, even took a backseat to the big fella—may detract from the feasibility of comparing him to Jordan. 

James, one of the most versatile and athletic players in league history, has won four MVP awards—three more than Kobe, one less than Jordan—and three championships. And he isn’t done. He just ended Cleveland’s 52-year pro sports championship drought, in his home state of Ohio, by overcoming the best regular season team in NBA history in an unprecedented comeback from a 3-games-to-1 NBA Finals deficit. But he’s often knocked for losing four times in the Finals, compared with Bryant’s 5-2 mark and Jordan’s sterling 6-0 Finals record.

Naturally, the perpetually under-the-radar Tim Duncan doesn’t enter the usual conversations about the “next Jordan.” He’s a big man, meaning that comparing him to wing players Jordan, Bryant, and James is essentially a comparison of apples and oranges. And his game isn’t quite as exciting to watch. But after Duncan on Monday announced his retirement after 19 NBA seasons, it’s time to give the “Big Fundamental” the recognition he deserves and often doesn’t receive. My colleague Eitan Rosenberg has noted that certain NBA players are so frequently discussed as being underrated that they become overrated, and then they’re so often touted as overrated that they become…underrated again. Well, I simply can’t remember a time during my two decades of NBA fanhood that Tim Duncan was “overrated.” No, he probably wasn’t the next Jordan. But he was arguably the most accomplished player of the post-Jordan era—yes, even more accomplished than Kobe and the unfinished career of LeBron.

In 19 seasons, Duncan averaged 19 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.2 blocks per game. The numbers are deflated by the 40-year-old’s statistical dip in recent years, including 8.6 points per game in his final season. He won five championships—including as San Antonio's best player (with all due respect to fellow Twin Tower David Robinson) in just his second season—and two MVPs. During the same period, fellow superstar big men Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki won just one championship apiece; by that measure, Duncan sets himself apart from Garnett and Nowitzki in the big man category more than Jordan outpaces Bryant and James in the pantheon of wing players.

The Spurs have 50 games or more for 17 consecutive seasons. What has enabled their remarkable run of sustained dominance? Duncan’s willingness to sacrifice. In his final season, he took a base salary of $5.3 million, while a declining Bryant was paid a league-high $25 million. San Antonio’s season ended in a disappointing second-round playoff loss, but the team won a franchise-record 67 games in the regular season after it was able to sign Duncan’s de facto replacement, LaMarcus Aldridge, in free agency—all because Duncan’s sacrifice gave them the salary cap flexibility to do so.

Kobe’s Lakers, meanwhile, hampered by their aging superstar's massive contract, continued their descent with a 17-65 record this past season—the second-worst mark in the NBA. Unlike Kobe, who announced his impending retirement in the middle of the season, Duncan had no high-profile "farewell tour" and didn't announce his retirement until now—precisely because his team, unlike Kobe's, was a championship contender until the very end of his career. That's typical Duncan for you. Fair or not, I'll remember not only the high point of Kobe's career, but also the sour taste of the end. Duncan didn't ride off with the storybook ending of a championship, but his financial sacrifice ensured his team's success for years to come, while there's no telling how long the Lakers will take to rebuild.

With LeBron’s career still ongoing, the debate over the post-Jordan era’s top player comes down to Kobe and Duncan. The argument for both stars has merit, but what it comes down to for me is their relative contributions to their teams’ success. When the Spurs won their last title in 2014, the team’s best regular season player was arguably Tony Parker, while Kawhi Leonard won Finals MVP. But Duncan was indisputably the Spurs’ top player for their four other championships. Kobe was the undisputed alpha dog on only two of his five Lakers’ championship teams. Duncan got the last six years of David Robinson's career as well as solid supporting stars in Parker and Manu Ginobili, but he didn't get to play with another superstar in his prime, as Kobe did with Shaq. Their records in the Finals—5-2 for Kobe, 5-1 for Duncan—are essentially a wash. (Though the only thing standing between Duncan and a Jordanesque 6-0 Finals mark is Ray Allen’s miracle 3-pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals.) The Lakers had a three-peat, but also had their fair share of ups and downs during the Kobe era. Duncan’s Spurs never repeated as champs, yet the only sure things in life during his 19 NBA years were death, taxes, and 50 wins for San Antonio.

When I’m building an all-time starting five—based not only on player legacies, but also positional fits—I’m seriously considering Duncan for my power forward spot. Kobe, however, isn’t in consideration for the shooting guard spot already occupied by Jordan. It’s a close call, but I’m choosing Duncan as the top player of the post-Jordan era—just for now, because the final product of LeBron’s career may eclipse him.

But maybe we shouldn’t even be talking about Jordan, or finding the next Jordan. Maybe we should be asking: Who will be the next Tim Duncan?

Pod 34: NBA News Roundup April 8, 2016

[powerpress] 

Sam Hinkie quits the 76ers, which is something we all saw coming. I talk about Jerry and Bryan Colangelo, and why they have such an easy job ahead of them, as well as measuring how successful they can be. Kevin Garnett is coming back for another season, which is crucial for Karl Anthony Towns' development. Also, Garnett probably wants another crack at the Playoffs. Kurt Rambis is incredibly being considered by Phil Jackson as a legitimate head coaching candidate for the Knicks next year. And finally, I talk about the Warriors, and whether they can crack 72 wins.

Pod 26: NBA News Roundup – January 15, 2016

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[powerpress]

Five quick news stories:

1) The Brooklyn Nets and mikhail prokhorov are interested in bringing in Danny Ferry to become their GM and lead their turnaround. How does this affect the John Calipari rumors? And is Ferry, an alleged racist, allowed back in the NBA?

2) Jerry Colangelo was famously brought back to the NBA to help the Sixers, reportedly with David Stern pulling the strings. How does this affect Sam Hinkie, the architect of the Sixers takedown, and who has final say over Sixers matters?

3) Derrick Rose comments on his future with Chicago. I explain why Bulls fans are fed up with Rose, and his recent turbulent history and unhelpful comments in past months.

4) John Wall, a max contract player, fired Dan Fegan and is joining Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. Why did Wall join LeBron's agent? Is it because he thinks he deserves more All Star votes and a higher profile?

5) The Lakers will probably offer Demar Derozan a max contract deal for $25 mil a year. Is he worth it? Will the Raptors match it? 

Pod 23: State of the Lakers *Christmas Edition* [Special Guest: Ags from LA]

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It's Christmas, and the Lakers are rolling hard toward the draft. In our longest podcast ever, me and special guest Ags from LA discuss everything Laker-related. We talk about Kobe's recent resurgence, the promising backcourt of Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell, passing on Okafor and Porzingis in the draft, the sad downfall of Roy Hibbert, Ron Artest's playing time, the flashes of promise shown by Julius Randle, Nick Young and his antics, whether Byron Scott deserves to be coaching, the role of the Buss siblings, and whether or not the Lakers have a realistic shot at bringing Russell Westbrook to LA in 1.5 years. Feel free to listen to our Oh, and we spoke about Andrew Bynum for 3 minutes! Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Pod #21: NBA Roundup: Dwight Howard Unhappy, Colangelo to the Sixers, and Rajon Rondo’s Short Suspension

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What a week in the NBA! Dwight Howard reportedly unhappy in Houston. He called Chris Sheridan a liar for breaking the story. His potential trade to Miami doesn't really make sense, and Dwight might simply be delusional at this point. Jerry Colangelo is officially on board with the Sixers, and unfortunately for Sam Heinke, Colangelo may have come at the perfect time, as next summer it will be easy for the Sixers to jump back into contention. Rajon Rondo made homophobic slurs to Bill Kennedy, yet only received a 1 game suspension. This is too little, and this episode probably hurt Rondo in his upcoming free agency. 

Pod #20: 2015-16 NBA MVP Race

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The 2015-16 NBA MVP race is underway, and the media has thrown around a few names. Make no mistake, Steph Curry and his other-wordly numbers make him the easy candidate for MVP. The only thing stopping him from winning is a huge shooting slump (unlikely) or possibly a big injury (more likely). If not for Curry, this conversation would about Paul George and LeBron James, both of whom are putting up big seasons. Other players that I discuss are Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant. I also talk about why Anthony Davis and James Harden (2 MVP candidates before the season started) are both struggling, and are not even in anyone's top 10. 

Pod #18: Does LeBron Have Warriors Paranoia?

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Brian Windhorst recently stated that he thinks that LeBron James is afraid of the Golden State Warriors. He calls it Warrios Paranoia, which is what the Clippers have after their brutal loss last week (after being up by 23 points). In this show, I talk about why LeBron has nothing to fear, and I look closely at last year's Finals to explain why the Cavs are still the favorites to beat the Warriors this coming June. 

Pod #14: Joakim Noah, Steph Curry, & Langston Galloway

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Will the Bulls keep Joakim Noah after this season?

What's the real reason why Steph Curry signed that really crappy 4 year deal for $44 million a few years ago?

Phil Jackson made a big mistake with Langston Galloway's deal. Listen why:

 

 

 

 

 

Image from Flickr.https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/3314877903/

Pod #13: NBA Regular Season Wins- Betting Odds

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In this episode, we race through each NBA teams' Vegas odds for total wins, and whether we like the odds. There are a couple of surprises – mainly the Knicks, Nets, and Kings all surpassing expectations, because of my "trying hard" theory – management wants to win now, and anyone can be a 40 win team if they want to. 

Image from Fliickr.

Pod #12: I’m Betting Against the Cavs

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Apologies to all my Cavs fans. But in 2 weeks, the Cavs will start the season 0-5. Every NBA pundit will say, "yea no big deal – Kyrie was hurt, LeBron was coasting, Love is slow to recover from injury, Tristan hasn't picked up a basketball all summer, and Mozgov was out of shape from surgery". And that's okay, because we all know that the Cavs are going to make the Finals. But that doesn't mean they won't start off slow, and that's why you should bet against them.

Cavs cheerleaders image is from Flickr.

Pod #8: Toronto Raptors 2015-16 Preview

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The Toronto Raptors had to overpay Demarre Carrol, but it was probably worth it as he fits their team perfectly. Corey Joseph on the other hand may have gotten too much money. Other signings such as Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo were cheap and affordable deal. 

The future of this team certainly rests on Jonas Valančiūnas's development, Kyle  Lowry getting a better attitude, and possibly trading Demar DeRozan or Terrence Ross in a big trade. 

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Pod #6: Why Is Phil Jackson Trashing Ex-Knicks

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Why does Phil Jackson continue to trash former Knick players? Shane Larkin, Andrea Bargnani, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Alexy Shved are just a few of the players who Phil has taken shots at. Is it worth it? Will he cause future free agents pause before joining the Knicks? He even trashed Jahlil Okafor and all of Duke! 

Listen to the podcast to find out what we think is going on with Phil. Special Guest: Johnny The Sales Guy