Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Draft Night!

I love the NBA draft. Because I pay so much attention to college basketball, I'm always interested in seeing where guys wind up, even (sometimes) if they're second-rounders.  Like most other people, I thought that this was an exceptionally deep draft, with plenty of potential starters and rotation players available well into the second round.  Below is my breakdown of many of the selections.

Biggest Home Run Pick
Well, obviously this is Anthony Davis.  ESPN's Chad Ford was probably spot-on when he said that there are only three guys (LeBron, Durant, and Chris Paul) that any team in the league wouldn't trade away for Davis.  I agree.  I think Davis can easily make first-team All-Defense as a rookie, because he's the rare kind of shot-blocker who doesn't have to be chained to the paint, and although he blocked over forty jump shots (!!!) alone this year, he also doesn't bite easily on pump fakes and get himself into foul trouble.  Which means he can stay on the floor and score points, too, something he can do in a variety of ways even if he's still learning to refine his offensive game.  But that won't be a problem for him either because he's a superb athlete with a tremendous work ethic (this draft is remarkable for how many hard-working good players were available).  I imagine that in three years, he'll be 6-11, 250, averaging a 20-12 with around 4 blocks a game and quite possibly lapping the competition (Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, etc.) as the best power forward in the game because of all the different things he can do.

Other Probable Stars
Sticking with the high-character theme, I love the trio of MKG, Bradley Beal, and Thomas Robinson. I know that Jordan probably insisted on MKG for his attitude alone, because while he may not be a finished product on the court, he just works harder than his competition, and he wins.  It may be two more years before he fixes his (fairly ugly) jumper, but the Bobcats will get the major kick in the ass that they seriously need.

I recall seeing Florida play for the first time in the SEC Tournament and doing a double-take upon hearing how highly Beal was regarded coming out of high school (seriously, how did I miss this?).  His numbers this season certainly didn't scream third pick overall, but in all fairness, he was playing with Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, who never met a 27-footer they didn't like.  I think Beal will be great, and great for the Wizards; he can shoot, handle well, guard people, and rebound.  Better yet, if the Wizards use their amnesty on Andray Blatche, they will effectively have traded one of their last cancerous players (I'm still not a huge fan of Jordan Crawford) for a guy who will work hard and help John Wall reach his potential.

And as I have described before, I love Robinson.  Jay Bilas made a great point in mentioning that his per-minute averages stayed the same this year even though his minutes almost tripled, which speaks to his work ethic.  And even if he was supposedly a little undersized (he wasn't), Robinson is a strong finisher who immediately becomes the most chiseled power forward in the league this side of Blake Griffin.  I think he'll be able to hold his own just fine, although it's a shame that he's going to such a dysfunctional team as Sacramento.

Very Defensible Lottery Picks
Since he'll be playing with a lead guard in Stephen Curry that has good floor vision, I actually like the Harrison Barnes pickup for the Warriors.  As a Carolina hater, of course, I love to point out that Barnes without Kendall Marshall was merely a decent college player, not someone who was supposed to be a superstar and potentially the next Kobe Bryant.  Maybe he's just an excellent second banana who needs a good support system among his teammates.  After all, he got to play his high school ball with Doug McDermott (in Iowa, no less), an opportunity that is extremely rare for any high school stud not from a major urban area.  Still, Barnes is a smooth athlete who can shoot, and he will excite Warriors fans until Curry's ankles give out and he's tentatively passing up 20-footers to dump the ball to Andris Biedrins.

I may have been happy to see him leave Durham after one year, but I'm pretty confident that Austin Rivers is going to be a good pro.  If there's anyone who knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level, it's someone like Rivers who's seen it all up close his entire life.  I'm still not entirely sold that he's a point guard, but perhaps his reluctance to pass was born more out of the role player-talent he played with (Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton) and not an innate reluctance.  Now that he'll be playing with Eric Gordon and Davis, he might give up the rock rather than charge into defenders on every possession.  He certainly has the handle and the ability to run an NBA team, but the aptitude may take a little bit of time.

Like Barnes, Jeremy Lamb should never be your best player.  But if he's one of your best players, as he was for UConn his freshman season, you'll be in good shape.  Even if he weighs about a buck eighty, he always looks like one of those guards who can score almost whenever they want, whether it's shooting jumpers or driving the lane.  Lamb may not be an All-Star, but he's certainly capable of scoring fifteen a night on a good team.

ESPN's advanced statistics on Damian Lillard (which they showed during the draft and compared him very favorably to Stephen Curry's final year at Davidson) sold me on his viability as a lottery-level point guard.  Sometimes guys are just late bloomers and get overlooked, even when they come from a basketball town like Oakland.  And you have to be overlooked to go from Weber State to sixth overall.  The Blazers should be very happy with Lillard running the pick and roll with LaMarcus Aldridge for the foreseeable future.

Defensible Lottery Picks
I think that Dion Waiters, Terrence Ross, and Meyers Leonard all went about 2-5 picks early, but none of them are egregious selections.  Much may be made of the fact that Waiters, who went fourth to Cleveland, never started a college game, but a) Jim Boeheim operates differently than most college coaches, b) he was pretty clearly the best player in every big game for a team that went 34-3, and c) he played starters' minutes.  Waiters will be able to score points right away, which is exactly what the Cavs need, and the fact that he came off the bench this entire season without blowing up his team speaks to how much he matured between his two college seasons.

By the time the ninth pick rolled around, the reward was definitely outweighing the risk for anyone interested in drafting Andre Drummond.  Look, I get it; he's incredibly raw and it's not entirely clear how focused he is.  But he was also younger than anyone getting drafted other than MKG, and 18-year-olds with scattered focus are the norm, not the exception.  What is entirely clear is that he's humongous and very athletic, and at worst can provide the same amount of rebounding and defense as, say, Kendrick Perkins (only he's noticeably more athletic than that), who has been the starting center for one title team and one runner-up.  A good value at number nine.

Eh, Fairly Unimpressive
Apparently the Phoenix Suns are okay with starting a tradition of great-passing point guards who can't play defense, because that's exactly what they're getting in Kendall Marshall.  He has outstanding floor vision, sure, and his shooting certainly improved as the season went along, but I can't remember a Carolina game on television (which was almost all of them) where he didn't look overmatched on defense.  Remember, he's going to have to guard Curry and Chris Paul just in his own division, to say nothing of Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook or Deron Williams, etc.  He will need to continue improving that jump shot so that his defensive liabilities (he's slow) don't keep him off the floor entirely.

As for John Henson, what position does he play? He's super-skinny, but unlike Davis (for example), he looks cobbled together out of spare parts, all narrow shoulders and bony elbows and no torso.  He does have an elite skill, blocking shots, but I'm willing to bet that his great rebounding numbers (10 a game the past two years) will drop significantly because he'll be going up against bigger, stronger guys that he won't be able to reach over as easily.  And he doesn't really have a refined skill on offense, although being a lefty (like Marshall) will certainly help him on that end of the floor.  I don't mean to sound like I'm bagging on Carolina guys, but I think these two have as many questions as answers.

Guy Who Will Make Multiple GMs Face-palm Themselves
While Henson went 14th, Philly drafted a guy exactly like half of the team they already have, and the Rockets and Blazers each passed on him twice, Terrence Jones sat there and twiddled his thumbs, finally getting scooped up by the Rockets on their third try.  Other than some occasional bad body language, what exactly was wrong with taking him ten picks earlier? He's big and strong (6'10", 252), athletic, handles and shoots the ball on the perimeter quite well, can defend three positions in the NBA, has a semblance of a post game, and oh yeah, is left-handed.  I think Jones has a better chance to be an All-Star than all but maybe five other guys in this draft, yet he lasted until the eighteenth pick.

More First Round Larceny
Okay, so Jared Sullinger has some bulging discs in his back.  I understand.  But that can be fixed, and certainly doesn't explain why he fell from unquestionably a top-five selection a year ago to 21st last week, after he lost weight, got stronger, and improved his face-up game from his freshman season.  How many power forwards in the league are going to be able to suffocate him on offense? Three?  This is a guy who should be able to score reliably inside, particularly if you pair him with a lethal shooter or two (like he had his freshman year at Ohio State in Jon Diebler).  He should provide top-ten value, and more immediately than guys like Henson or Leonard, but dropped twice that far.

Even though elbow and knee reconstructive surgeries have advanced a long way since their debut in the late '70s, and even in the past ten years, you can never be sure that a guy is going to come back 100% from tearing an ACL, certainly not in the 12-18 months following the injury.  So much of what the Bulls do is predicated on having Derrick Rose be able to blow past people at will, because they don't have too many other guys who can create their own offense.  And so, when the lightning-quick Marquis Teague fell into their laps, Chicago was wise to snap him up.  They have a competent backup in C.J. Watson, and so this pick gives them a great insurance policy.  If Rose doesn't fully recover, Teague has all of the same athleticism (if not yet all of the strength).  If Rose does recover, by the start of the 2013-2014 season the Bulls will either have two dynamic point guards who bring plenty to the table, or they will be holding on to an impressive trade chip that they can use to upgrade elsewhere on their roster and put themselves in a better position to beat Miami in the playoffs.  I loved this pick.

Best Possible Free-Fall in Draft History?
Well, I suppose that now we're actually going to find out whether or not Perry Jones III can be motivated.  If I recall correctly, he was sitting in the top three or four of Chad Ford's big board all season, and why not? He's 6'11", runs and jumps extremely well, and has a good perimeter game.  What he isn't is a back-to-the-basket forward who will spend a whole game banging inside.  And that's where falling to the Thunder so late could potentially be a godsend.  Not only should he be motivated by his precipitous drop to the end of the first round, he's now going to be mentored by two of the hardest-working players on the planet in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who should be able to bring out the best in him.  But an underrated component here is Thunder head coach Scott Brooks.  While all sorts of people, particularly those with a microphone in front of their faces, have castigated Westbrook and opined that he's not a real point guard, Brooks has allowed him to grow and thrive in that very role.  I think Brooks' willingness to think outside of the box a little and not try to squeeze square players into round holes could work out very well for Jones.  He's not a big guy, he's a wing who happens to be almost seven feet tall, and I think that Brooks and the Thunder coaching staff will be able to work with that and use him sometimes as a three, sometimes as a stretch four or even stretch five depending on matchups.  Imagine the length and athleticism of a Westbrook-Harden-Durant-Jones-Ibaka unit playing together for five or six minutes at a crack, and the matchup problems they could present.  If there was ever an ideal situation for Jones to realize all of his considerable potential, it's probably on the Thunder.

Other Smart First-Round Picks
One guy that I really came to like while watching several dozen Championship Week games in early March is Andrew Nicholson, who must be the first Canadian physics major ever taken in the first round.  I think that the only thing he won't be able to do well in the NBA is block shots, but I love his polished and diverse offensive game, with back-to-the-basket moves and three-point range.  For the moment, at least, he gives the Magic an intriguing pair of skilled forwards with Ryan Anderson.

Many pixels have already been spilled regarding the enigma that is Royce White, but suffice it to say I agree that he will be a good NBA player.  He's sort of a homeless man's LeBron, because of his ability to do so many things with and without the ball (except shoot free throws).  He is a terrific ball handler and passer for a big man, and he's not a bad athlete either.  Whether Houston keeps him or trades him, I think he'll be a very productive player in the league.

Perhaps you'll think that I'm less of a pro-Duke, anti-Carolina shill (although the next section could easily undo that) if I tell you that I think Tyler Zeller was a positive pickup for Cleveland (via Dallas) at 17.  Zeller, like his teammate Barnes, needs a good point guard to help him get the ball in optimum spots, and he'll have that in Kyrie Irving.  Zeller is really consistent, runs the floor very well (like pretty much all Carolina big men), and can drain that righty jump hook blindfolded from just about anywhere inside twelve feet (especially on the baseline side).  He can shoot out to eighteen feet, makes his free throws, and unlike many soft-looking big men, he rebounds (almost ten a game as a senior.  He's no star, but he should be a solid rotation player for a while.

Semi-Defensible Pick That Will Make Me Sound Like a Huge Homer
Having talked to a few friends about the draft, they all felt that the worst pick in the first round was obviously Miles Plumlee to Indiana at 26.  And I will respectfully disagree.  First of all, it's not like he went in the lottery or anything; at the end of the first round you're generally happy to get anything of value.  So it's not like the Pacers are taking a major risk here (I do think that this pick would be more defensible at, say, 31).  Second, he is and always has been a terrific athlete, and proved as much at the combine with a 41-inch vertical (a good three inches higher than anyone his size has ever jumped at the combine).  His strengths are rebounding and defensive energy (I'm not going to claim that he's a brilliant defensive player, but he is plenty serviceable).  Third, it's easy to point out his pedestrian senior year averages of just over six points and seven rebounds a game, but consider this; how many Duke big men have put up any numbers in the twenty-first century?  I can name Carlos Boozer and Shelden Williams, and that's it.  I (and several other Duke fans with whom I converse regularly) don't think that this Duke coaching staff does a good job with big guys, a sentiment echoed by one of their potential recruits this spring (I think it was Amile Jefferson).  Their "big man coach," after all, is Steve Wojciechowski, who is too small to play in the post on your average middle school team.  If you come to Duke as a big man these days, you're taught nothing more than rebounding, defense, and setting screens, and God help you if you take more than four shots that aren't layups or put-backs.  Here's what I think the Pacers are getting; an athletic, defensively competent big man who can spell Roy Hibbert and allow Indiana to keep some size on the floor with their second unit (neither Lou Amundsen nor Tyler Hansbrough are center-sized) while still allowing them to push the pace on the break.  Plumlee may be unremarkable, but I don't think he'll suck.

Wait, What?
Don't the 76ers already have a team full of excellent athletes who can't shoot?  Then why did they draft Maurice Harkless?  I understand that there were no shooters available that deserved to get drafted that high, but why didn't they upgrade their big men instead?  Unless they're going to work out a trade, this pick doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.  One Iggy is enough, there's not much sense in having two.

Smartest Second-Round Selection
Look, I will admit to loving college basketball, and to often not understanding why some guys who have terrific college careers can't hack it in the pros.  But I absolutely cannot understand how Draymond Green slipped all the way to the fifth pick of the second round.  What, exactly, separates him from, say, Shane Battier?  Both guys came out of school after four years as all-around talents with exceptional leadership skills and pretty average athleticism.  He's not really any different than Royce White, either, except that a) he can shoot better and b) we've all known about him for four years.  As a coach or GM, I would have lobbied for taking him over at least ten guys in the first round (Harkless, Jared Cunningham, John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli, Tony Wroten, Evan Fournier, Plumlee, Fab Melo, Perry Jones, and Arnett Moultrie).  Bottom line, Green is a winner who will help any team he is on.

Surprisingly Undrafted
The guy that I felt got jobbed the most, particularly by the run on Euros late in the second round (guys who are mostly going to be overseas for at least the next two or three years) is Iona point guard Scott Machado. I can think of no reason why he can't, at the very least, be a terrific backup point guard in the NBA, and he could probably wind up starting at some point for a lot of teams.  If he had gone to a bigger-name school, he probably would have wound up near the lottery, because he offers everything that Kendall Marshall does, only he's light years faster and a better shooter (50/40/81 splits as a senior).  In fact, he beat out Marshall to lead the nation in assists this past year, only he wasn't passing the ball to Barnes and Zeller and Henson, but to guys who play at Iona.  In all fairness, I only saw him play twice this season, but both times he impressed me with not just his aptitude for finding open guys, but the speed at which he does it.  Hopefully he will land with someone as an undrafted free agent, because he'll make any team he's on more fun to watch.  Until next year...