• Chad Ford of ESPN.com (Insider) releases his first 2014 draft big board.
1. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas -- Wiggins begins the year as the consensus No. 1 player on our Big Board. In fact, many scouts believe he's the best young prospect to come into the draft since Kevin Durant. Wiggins is blessed with extreme athleticism. You hear names such as Vince Carter and Dominique Wilkins when people talk about his explosive leaping abilities. Wiggins is also a polished scorer who can shoot the 3 and get to the basket. His only weakness is that he appears to lack the same killer instinct that elite wings such as Kobe Bryant possess. But he's young. Wiggins skipped both national team commitments and camps this summer and, instead, enrolled early at KU. Fans might have to be patient as he figures out how to fit into a pretty loaded Jayhawks squad, but he's going to have to stumble pretty badly to fall out of this spot on our Big Board.
2. Julius Randle, Kentucky -- In a normal year, Randle would be the consensus No. 1 player in the draft. He's that good. He has size, strength, athleticism and a well-rounded game; power forwards like Randle don't come along very often. Head coach John Calipari might have to convince Randle to stay in the paint and take fewer 3-pointers. Still, he's expected to anchor a ridiculously talented Kentucky squad this season. Like Wiggins, Randle decided to forgo any summer league play and focus on Kentucky. Despite the talent on the team, scouts expect him to quickly assert himself as the alpha dog. He should provide a serious challenge to Wiggins for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
• Thunder forward Kevin Durant had 63 points (on 62 shots) in a Seattle pro-am over the weekend. Here's the full highlight tape, which features plenty of appearances from summer exhibition All-Star Jamal Crawford. Video via YouTube user Ballislifedotcom
• Steve Kerr, writing at NBA.com, has some thoughts on curbing the practice of tanking.
Each lottery team gets a 1-in-14 chance of winning the first pick, a 1-in-14 chance of winning the second pick, a 1-in-14 chance of winning the third pick and so on through the fifth pick. The 'bottom floor' rule picks up from the 6th pick, meaning the team with the worst record in the league is guaranteed to pick sixth at the latest, the team with the second-worst record is guaranteed no better than the seventh pick and so on.
In this world, a team like Utah -- which battled the entire season and came up just shy of the playoffs -- would have a 5-in-14 shot of picking in the top 5. I think that would be a just reward for competing all season long and trying to win at a high level. Under the current rules, Utah -- in the 13th slot -- had a 0.6 percent chance of winning the lottery and a 2.2 chance of picking in the top 3. (In other words, what were the chances of Utah moving up from the 13th slot? About as much chance as Lloyd Christmas had of ending up with Mary Swanson in "Dumb and Dumber".) As for the really bad teams whose odds would suddenly be much worse to get a top 5 pick? Tough luck. No more handouts. And if you don't get lucky, make sure you draft well when you're selecting eighth or ninth. Since the new CBA is about smart management, not money, winning out, drafting well and player development has to factor in for every team. (And hey, if Brooklyn has to pay an $80 million tax bill for trying to win a title, with much of that tax money going to the bad teams, let's penalize the bad teams that don't TRY to win.)
• Dwight Howard cited the chance to work with legendary big men Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale as a major factor in his decision to choose the Rockets over the Lakers and others in free agency. Here, via @JasonCFriedman, is photographic evidence that the tutelage is underway.
• Eric Freeman of Ball Don't Lie documents Moondog the mascot's recent trip to a wedding.
• Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman checks in with Thunder center Kendrick Perkins for some offseason thoughts.
Perkins' motivation is twofold. The Thunder's second-round exit last season still is fresh in his mind, and he knows he didn't help the team as much as he would have liked to. As for the former, the basketball world now seems to be overlooking the Thunder going into the 2013-14 season, something that isn't lost on the Thunder.
“They count us out,” Perkins said. “But at the end of the day we feel like each guy at the end of the season said we were going to come back better. So we feel like each guy just got to step their roles up a little bit more and step their games up and we feel like we can do that.”
“One thing I learned, and I learned this from Kevin Garnett, is don't only read the good things about you,” Perkins said. “Read the negative things about you, too, and use it as motivation. I think that's when it comes to the point when you can be considered a real man, when you can look at both. Because most people will hide from criticism. I take it and I just kind of use it as motivation to get better … I'm ready to get back on the court.”
Here’s where Ferry’s history with the Spurs becomes important. Yes, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Gregg Popovich were the driving forces behind multiple San Antonio championships, but an invaluable tool that allowed them to maintain such longevity was/is analytics.
“Well over the last year and a half since I’ve been here,” Ferry opined, “we’ve started to implement more of an area that uses statistical data probably more than has been in the past.”
Now, the previous administrations weren’t armed crusaders against analytics, accosting their users and labeling them as “NERDS!” They simply didn’t use them and that was their biggest mistake.
“The analytics part,” said Ferry, “is an important part of [the NBA] now and you’re at a big disadvantage if you don’t use it.”
• Thunder guard Russell Westbrook wore some clothes to the Teen Choice Awards.