"I can only give you the inside I have as a guy that knows players as well as I do. Players like change. Players, especially like LeBron, are so hooked into the business part of being a professional basketball player that there is no one that can touch New York except for maybe the Lakers, but probably not. Probably New York is it. I think that people underrate the idea of playing for a guy like Mike D'Antoni."
-- David Thorpe, ESPN.com & IMG Academies
As promised, here is Part III of my interview with David Thorpe of ESPN & IMG Academies.
In this final part of the Q/A, Thorpe answered questions concerning the current rookie class, as well as provide his opinion on the likelihood of LeBron joining the New York Knicks in 2010, and more.
Click after the jump for the full transcript.
Where would you rank Orlando next year. Let's just say every team has a full clean slate. Obviously Boston is going to decline a bit with their age and obviously Cleveland will be right there and so will Los Angeles. Where would you put Orlando in that mix?
They'd be right there. You want to see how the team finishes up. Can Lee improve? I actually think Pietrus is a big random variable as well. I think that he brings a better slashing game than anyone else, next to maybe Turkoglu, but he's more athletic than Hedo. I don't think he's a great finisher, but that can be changed with good practice habits and an awareness of it. I think he can be a really important piece. I think Redick can be a sharp-shooter that every playoff game needs. If you watch the history of the playoffs, guys like a Pargo or a Eddie House, you need that three-point threat because the games is even more emotional in the playoffs than it is in the regular season. Those swings in emotion with three-point shooters really make a difference in the playoffs so I think J.J. is an interesting piece. I hope they keep him.
Personally, I'd probably put them right next to any other team as even. I don't think that they'd take a backseat to any of those other teams.
Which rookie has impressed you the most?
Probably Love. Listen, Westbrook has been amazing and he's #1 on my list. He could very well win Rookie of the Year, but the ball was given to him in a sense and there were no expectations either. I think Love had a harder road because there were such unbelievable expectations, not to mention him but the team too. The team obviously fired their coach and they were really disappointed with how they did. I don't think Oklahoma City expected to do much better, I could be wrong, but Minnesota definitely did. The fact that he had to come off the bench, and still has to come off the bench. He had to change his body so much.
He's maybe the best rebounder we have in the NBA and he isn't even 20 yet. That's amazing to me. He's an amazing player. He does a lot of little things well. Mayo is surprising a little bit. I was really impressed with his shooting ability as a rookie at Summer League. He was very impressive as a shooter. But to do it over the course of a season, the way he's doing it, takes a real maturity and a real energy. You have to really have energy to take the shots that he takes and make them as often as he makes. Rookies tend not to be able do that and he's doing it. I think he's been surprisingly good too, I think.
What type of ceiling do you think Love will have with Minnesota, or even with any other team in the future?
I think he's a starter for a great team. I think he's going to be an All-Star. I think he's going to be an All-Star, not because his numbers are going to be so exhorbidant, but the guy can be a 16/13 guy or 17/14 guy, crazy double-double numbers on a team that wins a bunch of games and the coaches that have to pick their rosters will have to game-plan for that guy. The other night he had 9 offensive rebounds. You have to know about him and I think he's going to put up steady, steady, steady, steady, steady numbers every night out and make the pass that kills you.
The thing about coaches is, when you're defending a team a certain way, and the other team still can pick you apart because they just have really skilled passers. You're really sometimes at a loss at that point and Love is going to be one of those guys, I think, that can really pick apart any defensive scheme that someone throws at him because he's that good at it. Coaches are going to notice that and they're going to see his double-doubles on average but their also going to see that he might be the best passing big. I actually think over the next t hree to four years, you're going to see a three-point shot from him and that's really going to make things tough because he's such a brilliant passer. By spreading the floor from three, Al Jefferson is going to be dynamite inside and Love is going to get threes just on that dynamic. You're going to have guard to Love out there and then it's going to open Jefferson even more.
So would you compare Love's passing skills to someone like Brad Miller or Chris Webber, historically savvy passers that are able to dish it to their players?
Absolutely, I think he's going to go down as one of the best passing bigs we've had. Going back to when you asked me about his ceiling, I think passing is the most underrated skill a player can have. The average scout and talent evaluator don't appreciate it nearly as much as coaches do because a really good passer really does make everyone on his team better. A guy can get open, and he may not look open to you or me or to anyone on the floor, but the good passer can find him open.
That's what made Magic so special and Bird so special. It wasn't the fancy passes, the 3 on 1, the 2 on 1, the 4 on 2, anybody can make those plays. It was the 5 on 5 passes where there's only an inch of space and one second of timing that was required to make that pass work. Guys like Magic and Bird could do it and it looks like Love is one of those guys that can make that play. That elevates everyone on your team because now that guy scored a bucket, where if anyone else had the ball in their hands that guy wouldn't be scoring that bucket.
Which rookie, within this class, do you think has the brightest future? Everybody talks about D. Rose, Mayo, obviously Love as you mentioned, even Brook Lopez. Which one has the brightest future in the NBA and why?
I wouldn't pick just one guy. I think that there's four or five guys. Westbrook looks like he's really going to be a terrific player, Love is going to be a terrific player, Mayo is going to be a terrific player, Rose is going to be terrific. I think people were surprised that I put Brook Lopez in there but we don't just have a whole bunch of seven-foot centers in the league that can score, rebound, and block shots like he can. We just don't. He's just isn't doing it so dramatically with athleticism where he's not on SportsCenter highlights a lot but at the end of the day, he's nibbling down on you to death. Those guys are really valuable.
I always thought Durant should have gone ahead of Oden, and I still do. I still think that Portland should have drafted Durant but obviously Oden has the chance to be just a dynamic player, maybe the best upside. What's interesting about this draft compared to last year's draft is, I think, this year's draft blows last year's draft away, in terms of number of potential of All-Stars and number of potential starters. But had you combined the two classes, Oden and Durant still go 1 & 2. So even though Oden is a rookie this year, the draft of last year had the two best players of these last two drafts in my opinion.
But there was more depth in this recent draft is pretty much what you're trying to say?
A lot more depth, I mean, it's not close. It's not even a contest.
What about next year? Obviously that's going to be a weak draft. What type of players do you think have any type of solid future in the NBA? Is there any future All-Stars that you see that could really make an impact for a team?
I don't really start watching college players until February, and I haven't yet started. I've only watched a couple games so far. The games that I've watched, it looks like Griffin is going to be a very, very good rebounder and a good defender and a guy that can really finish around the rim. But I don't know if I see All-Star status with him just yet.
I've watched Florida play the other night and I'm in love with Nick Calathes' game. I think that he's the closest thing to Nash, I'm not the only one saying this, this is what every scout says. He's just so crafty, he's taller than Nash. He's so crafty with the ball. He's the closest thing to Chauncey Billups coming off a ball screen. He reads it like a computer does. He always makes the right play on it and he can shoot the perimeter shot. I think in the right offense he's going to be an unbelievable talent.
I haven't really watched many other guys. I'll start doing that soon.
Do you think that Tyrus Thomas will live up to the massive hype that the fans and the Bulls organization have put up for him?
Yeah, I do. First of all, I think, since December 1 if you do PER, I think he's close to right around 18, which is really good and remember that he's still 22. The question is, he did it December, he did it January. I think his December numbers, his PER was just under 18. In January, it was just under 16. In February, it's sky-rocketed because he's done so well in February so far. He got to keep doing that and if he does, as long as he gets 30+ minutes, he normally does, then he's going to be a very similar player to guys like Kirilenko. He's going to be just an absolute stat-stuffer. He's going to be one of those guys that does 16 points, 11 rebounds, 2.5 block shots, 2 steals, 3.5 assists and take 2 charges every game. He's definitely aware.
He's such a defensive threat because not just his steals and his block shots, but when he's really plugged in, which he's been doing a lot lately, he's contesting every shot around the rim and that drives field-goal percentages down. He's deflecting passes that would otherwise would be lay-ups for someone. He's just all over the place. Even if he's a step below Aldridge, and the argument I'll make right now is that he'll never be the scorer that Aldridge is. It's just not who he is. Of course he has no choice when nothing is run for him like it is for LaMarcus. I'm not saying anything should be run for Tyrus.
LaMarcus is a low-post threat. Tyrus never played the post until he got to college. He's had four coaches in five years now. He still has a long way to grow and learn but even if he's just an above-average offensive player, he has a chance to be a dynamic rebounder. I would say starting next year he's going to be on people's Top 10 for All-Defensive team. He's really good defending pick & rolls. He's really good helping his space against smaller guys. He's obviously a Top 10 elite shot blocker already, playing 25 minutes a game. Defensively, he has a chance to be a big-time difference maker.
Offensively, his game is improving. He's a way underrated passer. He's sometimes impetuous with turnovers and that's just experience. Ask Joakim Noah, Aaron Gray, or Lu Deng, guys that score buckets inside, it's because of pinpoint passes that Tyrus is throwing. The other night, I thought Vinny did a smart thing. The Hornets were pressing and they had a little trouble. They just started Tyrus back in the backcourt and he just brought the ball up, no problem. He made the pass to Derrick Rose and they started their offense. I think that as Vinny learns his players more and more, I mean, he just got there his first year himself. He's going to realize that he's got the ball skills. I think the debate between Aldridge and Thomas is going to end up always being had and I think it's going to be a much more closer match than people probably suspected a year ago.
Do you think the coaching changes and the inconsistencies in minutes has maybe affected Thomas' development a little bit. Maybe not stunted his growth, but maybe stopped it a little bit. Do you think that's played a little bit of a factor?
I don't think there's any question of that. When you go through what they've gone through with a young player, there's going to be setbacks and there's going to be learning curves. Especially someone like Tyrus who's never really been a part of any kind of strong foundation. It wasn't like his high school program was great. He didn't go to junior college or prep school for a year. He went right to LSU. He red-shirtted because he got hurt and then he basically played for John Brady. No one accused of Brady of really having a tight disciplined Dean Smith style program. And then Scott Skiles did.
I think Tyrus would have been just fine with Scott and the myth that people think that Tyrus didn't like Coach Skiles. I don't think anyone liked Coach Skiles as a coach. He's not a guy that really cares what you like. When I first met Tyrus, he did nothing but praise to be sung about the kind of coach Skiles was and how much he respected him as a coach. Tyrus even said to me when I first met him last year last January, 'I missed that. I don't need freedom right now. I need structure.' He liked it. He knew where he needed to be on the floor. He's too talented, like Andray Blatche. They're so good, they're so talented and so tall and athletic and long. They can do almost anything. Skiles, I think, helped Tyrus locked him in with a laser-locked focus and a more tighter role. I think they're getting back to that now with Vinny. That's why I think he's gotten so much better, in terms of an efficient production.
Side-stepping a bit, you were talking about Nick Calathes from Florida. Where do you think he'll fall in the Draft?
Well, I couldn't begin to predict right now because I have no idea who's going to be in the Draft. Including Nick, I don't even know if he's going to be in the Draft. I really don't know. I know this, there are some teams out there who are going to run an offense similar to what D'Antoni ran in Phoenix and what he's running in New York now. I don't know there two point guards more prepared to run that style than Nick because he's so good at ball screens and reading what's going on. He's so crafty as a scorer and a passer.
I don't know where New York is drafting next year but let's say they sneak into the playoffs and they're drafting #17 or #18. If they have their draft pick, they're going to have a hard time not taking this guy. I definitely think they'll bring in Nash ultimately and Nash will teach Calathes. He's going to be perfect for that system. There's enough teams playing that style now where I can't believe there's 20 guys that would go ahead of him. He's really playing at a high level right now.
In talking about New York a little bit, how do you think Gallinari has played so far? He's been playing really well with the limited minutes that D'Antoni has thrown at him. Do you think he's be able to rise into a starter's role within the season this year?
I don't know about this season, because I don't know if Mike is really looking at it that way. The guy has got All-Star potential. He's going to be a 20+ point scorer for them probably. He's that good of a shooter and that good of a scorer. He has all the skills and has all the toughness and size that you want. Mike loves him, which always is good when your coach really believes in you. Right now, he's almost like a novelty like Bargnani because he's Italian, he's a rookie, he was hurt, and he's a fishbowl like New York. In a couple years, he's just going to be a real matchup problem for people because he's so gifted as a shooter. Assuming they get someone, whether it's Bosh, or LeBron, or Dwyane Wade, or whoever you want to fill in.
The New York Knicks are going to be able to attract really, really special free agent talent because of the style they play, the coach they have, and the stadium they play in and the history of the Madison Square Garden. He doesn't have to carry the team and he can really be a special second or third man scorer. Because of the way New York scores points, he's going to do a lot of it, I think he's got a real chance to be an All-Star.
What are the odds, obviously with 2010 and LeBron, Bosh, Wade, Amare, all those names. What are the odds that the Knicks get LeBron? Obviously that's been the talk forever now. Do you think it's really going to happen? Do you think LeBron will go to New York?
I can only give you the inside I have as a guy that knows players as well as I do. Players like change. Players, especially like LeBron, are so hooked into the business part of being a professional basketball player that there is no one that can touch New York except for maybe the Lakers, but probably not. Probably New York is it. I think that people underrate the idea of playing for a guy like Mike D'Antoni. I think that he's one of those guys that let you play. I think the team is starting to realize it now. Some of the guys that complained last year are kicking themselves, saying 'what the heck are we thinking about? This guy is a joy to play with compared to most other people.'
I think that those combinations suggest that, sure it's possible. I wouldn't begin to guess of whether it's going to happen. I don't think LeBron knows. How can we figure out it when I'm quite sure he hasn't figured it out? When I was coaching high school kid years ago, and they would ask me 'where do you think he's going to go?' I would always say 'I don't think he knows, how would I know?' I don't think he's thinking about it. I think LeBron is very focused right now on trying to win a ring. I think he plays around a little bit with the idea but I think he's trying to win games and I think he'll do the same thing next year. Then there will be some real soul-searching after that.
It's possible. There's no question of that. He'd be silly not to consider those options.
Do you think New York will get two max guys, no matter who they are?
Yeah, it seems likely. I'm not sure they'll get two of the big four that we're talking about, but they'll get two All-Stars. There's no question. If Gallinari keeps on developing the way he's doing, then maybe they won't need Bosh quite as much unless they want to go small, which is certainly possible. David Lee is playing out his mind, and that may change what they need.