xphoenix87 is a contributing writer for BallerBlogger.com. x is a college student who dreams of one day writing about sports for a living. Since that’s not gonna happen, he’ll do this instead.
I love draft time. On draft night, everyone gets excited. The bad teams have their high picks, hoping to find their franchise’s savior. The good teams just know that their late first-rounder will be the piece that pushes them over the top. In actuality, the draft is rarely as important as all that, but that hardly matters. It’s a night where hope springs eternal. Even teams without picks hold on to the hope that they can make that blockbuster trade and get that stud prospect. In the end, a lot of teams will go wrong, a few will draft right, fans will wildly overreact one way or another, and maybe, just maybe, someone will find that superstar they’re looking for. For a draftnik like myself, there’s no better time of year than the leadup to the draft. Plus, you’ve probably read about 1000 Kobe stories in the last few days, and it’s nice to move on to something else. So, lets all enter a Kobe/LeBron-free zone, to that wonderful world where everyone is happy and optimistic and the hater talk is left at the door. It’s the NBA Draft, and who doesn’t love that?
Now, I could list out a mock draft, or tell you who the best prospects are at each position, but there are about 100 sites out there giving you that information and you’ve probably read it over and over again. Instead, I’ll be highlighting the players on whom my opinion differs from the norm, looking at which teams might make noise on draft night, and also provide some general draft notes.
Players I Like
Ricky Rubio – Lets be clear on this. Rubio is the second-best prospect in this draft. He’s dropped in the eyes of some people as they’ve become enamored with workout warriors like Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings. He’s fighting the stigma that European players are busts waiting to happen, and the fact that he doesn’t have elite athleticism has some people questioning his ceiling. Here’s the thing though, sometimes we just overthink things. Rubio is a 6′5, 18-year old who has thrived playing in the second-best domestic league in the world. As the equivalent of a high school senior, he went head-to-head with Chris Paul and Jason Kidd in the Olympics, and didn’t look out of place. Do you realize how absurd that is? He’s blessed with rare court vision, a great handle, and great defensive instincts. If he goes any later than the second pick, he’s a steal.
Stephen Curry – What do we know about Curry? He’s a great shooter in every conceivable situation (on the move, off the dribble, from a standstill, whatever). He’s got tons of confidence, but he’s a quality character guy who isn’t going to mind playing a supporting role. He has an excellent handle, good vision, and can play either point or shooting guard (with a big point who can cross-match). Worst case, he’s a great shooter who can be a fantastic role player. Best case, and I think this is very possible, he’s a better version of Mike Bibby. In a draft without many sure things, I think Curry is a really safe bet. I’d take him as high as 3rd if Rubio isn’t there, and if he falls to the Knicks at 8, he’d be a steal.
DeJuan Blair – I have this feeling that Blair is going to fall in the draft. I know that Mock drafts have had him at the end of the lottery, but short, rebounding power forwards have traditionally been overlooked. I loved Blair all season, and he’s come into workouts in great shape and is reportedly tearing it up. There have been concerns about the fact that he tore both ACLs in high school, but the guy only missed one game in two years at Pittsburgh. Again, in a draft that has so few sure things, if you draft Blair you absolutely know that you’re getting a guy who will rebound like a maniac. Rebounding is one of the things that best translates to the NBA, and Blair was by far the best rebounder in the NCAA last year. Starting with Toronto at 9, I think he’s a good pick for anyone in that range.
Ty Lawson – I think Lawson is being severely underrated right now. Sure, he doesn’t have great size, but did anyone actually watch Ty Lawson play in college? He was crazy efficient, set up his teammates really well, and dramatically improved his jumper. He can hit spot-up threes, he can run a team, and he can get to the rim and finish. He’s small, but he has great strength and finishes through contact. I think he can be a great change-of-pace backup point for some team. I’d consider him as high as 17th, and maybe even higher than that.
Earl Clark – I know he’s a risk, but if I’m picking one guy to take a chance on, it’s Clark. He has a variety of potential character issues and motivation problems, but his talent is immense. He has a chance to be a Lamar Odom-type contributor. He’s never going to be a real efficient offensive weapon, but he can be a versatile contributor who rebounds like crazy and can defend multiple positions effectively. There are a lot of players in this draft who are risks, and if I’m going to take a risk I’d rather take it with Clark’s height and skillset than with an unproven guard.
Players I Don’t Like
Terrence Williams – You may ask, what’s the difference between Williams and Clark, that I like one and not the other? The main difference is that Clark can be a fantastic role player, but Williams is a point forward who needs the ball in his hands. Problem is, he’s not a very effective offensive player. He can pass pretty well, but he turns the ball over a lot, and he’s not a good shooter. Basically, he’s not a good enough role player because he doesn’t do role player-type things, but he’s not good enough to be a primary option.
James Harden – Understand, I loved Harden as a college player, and I think he can possibly make a strong NBA role player. However, I don’t see him as being distinctly better than the other 8-10 guys at the top of the lottery. For example, I personally think anyone would be crazy to take him over Curry. He’s a decent athlete, not a great one. He got the majority of his points last year by getting to the line, but I don’t think he can do that in the pros. If James Harden is your 3rd or 4th best player, then I think you’re alright. However, I wouldn’t use a top 5 pick on him.
Tyreke Evans – Evans has essentially one thing that he does really well. He uses his superior strength to bull into the lane and get to the rim. He’s not a very good shooter, he’s not a good decision-maker, and he’s not really an explosive athlete. Honestly, he wasn’t that great a player in college, and I don’t see his game translating to the NBA that well either. I definitely don’t see why Sacramento is considering him as high as 4th. I watched him in high school and college, and each time I came away with the impression that he was a me-first player who didn’t know what a good shot was.
Tyler Hansbrough – If you’ve read me at all over the last few years, you could see this one coming. I’m actually a bit higher on Hansbrough now than I was last year since he’s definitely improved his mid-range jumper, but I still don’t think he’s a first-round pick. He’s not a good defensive player, he’s not a good rebounder (this is not an opinion, it is fact. He was the 26th best rebounding power forward among draft-elible players once you adjust for pace), and he’s definitely not going to be the same prolific scorer he was in college. Sorry, I just don’t see him as a legitimate NBA rotation player when his only real strength is a mid-range jumpshot. Best case, I think he’s a poor man’s Udonis Haslem. Just not a first-round pick in my mind.
Teams To Watch
These are the teams that are probably going to be active on draft night, and could make a big impact on how the draft unfolds.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Any time you’ve got 6 picks, including 4 first-rounders, you’re going to have a big impact on the draft. Their trade with Washington for the 5th pick gave the Wolves back-to-back picks at the top of the lottery, and they’re not done yet. Word is that Minnesota desperately wants to land Ricky Rubio, and they’re trying to do so by moving the 5th pick and one of their later first-rounders to pry the 2nd pick away from Memphis or the 3rd pick away from OKC. It’s likely we’ll see at least one more trade from Minnesota, and then they’ll determine how the rest of the lottery proceeds with those two picks.
Memphis Grizzlies – Memphis really needs to trade the #2 pick. Rubio is clearly the second-best prospect in the draft, and to take anyone else would really be a waste of that valuable draft slot. There are any number of suitors who want Rubio, including the aforementioned Timberwolves. Unfortunately for Memphis, Rubio doesn’t want to play for them, and the rest of the league knows it, so they’re not exactly bargaining from a position of strength. Still, they need to move the pick and get some quality assets in return, because the trade value is worth significantly more than whoever they would pick (sounds like it will be Thabeet if they keep it).
Portland Trailblazers – If only because Kevin Pritchard is at the helm. Though the Blazers don’t have multiple first-round picks like in previous years, they have a roster full of tradeable young talent, and Pritchard has owned the draft the last few years. They need to find their point guard of the future, and if they have the chance to make a trade that lands them Rubio, I think they’d jump on it. They could also possibly work as facilitators in a multi-team deal if it landed them a quality point guard.
New York Knicks – Poor Knicks. They found their guy early in Stephen Curry, and it looked like he would definitely be falling to them. Unfortunately, once other teams started to get a look at him (because apparently they haven’t watched college basketball at all in the last 2 years) it started becoming more and more likely that he’d be gone by the 8th pick. Now a team with little-to-no trading pieces is desperately trying to cobble together a deal good enough to move them up to get Rubio or Curry. It’s possible they swing a deal, but it’s looking unlikely right now. If they’re still sitting in the 8th spot when that pick roles around, there are about 8 different guys they could take, so who knows where they’re going.
Other Draft Thoughts
- Though it’s not a great draft talent-wise, this might be one of the most entertaining drafts in recent memory. After Blake Griffin goes first, there’s basically no telling what’s going to follow. Memphis might trade the pick or take Thabeet, nobody knows what’s going on with the Thunder, Sacramento execs have been changing their minds every day for the last month, and Minnesota could go anywhere with those back-to-back picks. There’s a reason why everyone’s mock drafts look substantially different, it’s just a crapshoot all the way through the first round. If there’s even half the action we think there could be, this is going to be a fun draft.
- If you’re looking for a point guard, it’s a good day for you. Consider the fact that an All-American who went to 3 consecutive Final Fours (Darren Collison) is projected to be a late first or early second-rounder. There are legitimately 13 point/combo guards who have a very good shot at being rotation players. That’s crazy. Even if you’re picking at the bottom of the first round, guys like Collison, Patrick Mills, Nick Calathes and Toney Douglas will still be available. The rest of the draft may be thin, but there’s a ton of depth and talent at the point guard spot.
- I honestly don’t understand the emphasis that teams put on workouts. It seems that all we hear about around draft time is how much a guy helped his stock with a good workout. Seriously? We have tons of information about how they did in ACTUAL GAMES, and we’re hinging everything on workouts? For example, Charlotte reportedly was strongly leaning towards Gerald Henderson with their pick. Then they were impressed by Terrence Williams in a workout, and then had both guys come in and work out together. Then they were so impressed that they made a promise to pick Williams. WHAT? “We actually thought you were better when we watched you in real game situations, but now that we saw you get schooled in that drill against the chair, we’re really reconsidering.” I just don’t understand some teams.
- I’m looking forward to seeing Terrence Williams’ draft night interview. The guy has definitely got some crazy in him. He wears a Barbie backpack and has had an NBA exec compare him to Ron Artest (not violent like Ron, but just a little bit nuts). Sadly, Stephen A. Smith will no longer be around to handle the interview duties, because that would’ve been a high-comedy interview.