The James pick makes TJ laugh.
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Posted by By Jon Loomer on May 3, 2006 11:00 a.m. ET


Expert picks for the Drive to the Finals game have been going pretty smoothly. We've got some of the brightest NBA minds available right here on staff, offering their advice on a daily basis. Now, no one's perfect. I scanned through the expert picks this morning to take a look at how we've been doing, and wondered, "Who picked Vince? That's horrible." Oh, wait. It was me.

But, LeBron? I don't know. My entire strategy is built upon saving the best players on teams that will advance to the next round. I've spent several blogs laughing at the people who are leading this thing right now. Their scores are misleading, I said, because they used players like LeBron. He will be in our pocket in the next round. Now, not the case.

But, I can't curse out Jeff Dengate, the source of the pick. We all think differently. And I don't expect everyone to follow my strategy because who's to say I'm right?

But, LeBron?

Jeff almost convinced me. Seriously, he did. I see where he's going. If the Cavs advance to the next round, they'll be up against the Pistons and a heavy underdog. In addition, LeBron will have a much more difficult time putting up big numbers against the Pistons. So, your options are to pick him against the Wizards or wait and pick him against the Pistons.

I still say you wait. Let's look at the Conference Semifinals (also known as the second round) last year. The round lasted 12 days, which means you will need to use 12 players during this time. On eight of these days, there were two games played; on three days, there was one game played; and on the remaining day, there were three games played. Keep that in your back pocket for a second.

Let's assume the following teams advance: Lakers, Clippers, Mavericks, Spurs, Pistons, Nets, Cavaliers and Heat. If I am correct, the match-ups would be Spurs-Mavericks, Clippers-Lakers, Pistons-Cavs, and Heat-Nets. If we want to continue to use players from the underdog teams so that we can reserve players for the Conference Finals when options become increasingly scarce, let's assume for argument's sake that we decide to use players from the Mavericks, Lakers, Cavs, and Nets (the underdogs). Our acceptable player pool would look something like this:

Dirk Nowitzki
Jason Terry
Josh Howard
Kobe Bryant
Lamar Odom
Kwame Brown
LeBron James
Drew Gooden
Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Larry Hughes
Vince Carter
Jason Kidd
Richard Jefferson

That is 13 players. Now, keep in mind that I screwed everyone up by taking Vince Carter. And LeBron James was just used today. So, now we are down to 11 "acceptable" players. Although, I would be less than thrilled to take Terry, Howard, Brown, Gooden, Ilgauskas, Hughes or Jefferson. So, we have 11 players, but really only four who we can count on.

But, don't stop there. We have 11 acceptable players, but there is no guarantee that we'll be able to use all 11. We can expect there to be three days on which we will be forced to take a player from a single match-up. The options will be minimal on those days. We can expect there to be eight days on which there will be two games. While the options will be greater, this also limits our ability to pick all of the players we want (it's Game 4 and I am forced to pick either Dirk in one game or Kidd in another).

Then think about being able to whip out LeBron at a time when everyone else is using Jason Terry. Or Josh Howard. Or Kwame Brown.

I could put together a hypothetical schedule to show you just how much harder it will be to make picks next round without LeBron at your disposal, but I realize I've already made this far too complicated. You're rolling your eyes already, so let's keep it simple. What is the price you need to pay to make this pick?

T.J. Ford.

You haven't heard me mention Ford. All along, I've said the Bucks have only one option. Then I saw the Bucks-Pistons game on Monday. Ford was outstanding. Foul trouble prevented him from putting up even greater numbers, but he is an option.

I also need to give some credit to Rob Peterson here. I was planning on taking Gilbert Arenas today. Taking Ford, however, is the best strategic move. If you take Arenas and the Wizards win, Washington is one win away from putting us in a position in which we have neither Arenas nor Antawn Jamison in the next round. If we pick LeBron James and the Cavs win, we face the prospect of not having LeBron next round. If we pick Ford today, we will be able to wait. Wait. If the Cavs go up 3-2, we take Arenas next game. If the Wizards go up, we take LeBron.

It seriously isn't rocket science -- though I tend to make everything sound more complicated than it is -- but I do believe this is the best strategy.

And who do we go with tomorrow? Options abound. I plan on going with Boris Diaw, although there are several players out there who are at about the same level.

But, let's worry about today. Watch. Wait. And pick T.J. Ford.