Last week, I gave a quick rundown of the teams I believed came out as losers from the NBA draft. Apparently, judging by some of the comments I received, calling Bismack Biyombo a massive bust waiting to happen and criticizing the Celtics for not keeping Marshon Brooks weren’t particularly popular points of view. And there are people out there who actually like what the Sacramento Kings are cooking up these days. Who knew?
Anyway, to balance the scales, here’s a list, in reverse order, of who I believe were the top five winners from the 2011 NBA draft.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
How does a team who didn’t even have a pick in the first two-thirds of the draft end up as winners? Well, you make exceptional use of mid-second rounders, that’s how.
The Lakers nabbed Michigan point guard Darius Morris at number 41, a pick that I believe will be looked back on as an absolute steal. Morris is big, long, quick and has the best court vision and passing ability in the entire draft. Of course, he also can’t shoot a lick. Playing for the Lakers, however, that’s not too much of a problem. After all, there’s this guy in Boston named Rondo who can’t shoot either, and he seems to be doing all right for himself.
Then, with the 46th pick, L.A. snatched up Andrew Goudelock from the College of Charleston. More of a scorer than a facilitator, Goudelock can fill it up on the offensive end and is clearly one of the best pure shooters in the draft with unlimited range. Not bad for the bottom quarter of the draft.
The Lakers had two glaring needs coming into the draft, the re-emergence of the squeezably soft Pau Gasol notwithstanding, point guard and scoring/shooting off the bench. Managing to address both those late in the draft is a big win.
4. Washington Wizards
The Wizards came out of this draft as possibly one of the most exciting teams in the league. Getting 6’11″ athletic freak Jan Vesely in the lottery alone could have landed Washington on this list. But they also got long, athletic defensive wiz Chris Singleton at 18 and Butler’s dynamo point guard Shelvin Mack early in the second round. That’s the kind of well-rounded haul that can turn a team from pretender to contender.
Vesely has superstar written all over him. Initially, I thought Singleton had a chance to be a bust as he was being discussed in the 10-12 range. Sliding to 18 and landing in an almost perfect situation where his defense can make a difference and he can make full use of his athleticism has changed my mind. Washington could well be the most exciting, unstoppable force in the league on the break sooner than later.
Getting Mack was another smooth pickup. He’s small and stocky, but he’s a supreme competitor, being the primary reason why the little Butler Bulldogs played in an unbelievable two straight NCAA championship games. I can see him as a Jameer Nelson type, a little shooting, a little passing, a steady hand as John Wall’s backup at the point.
Washington, who was such a mess two years ago, has done a fantastic job rebuilding and will be coming to a playoff series near you very soon.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
Let me say this right up front, I absolutely love the pickup of Stephen Jackson by Milwaukee. Even with the mouthing off about a contract extension before he’s even played a game there, Captain Jack is going to pay big dividends for the Bucks.
Milwaukee clearly got the best end of the three team predraft trade with Charlotte and Sacramento. They not only added Jackson, they got a solid backup for Brandon Jennings in Beno Udrih and somehow, some way managed to offload two bad contracts in John Salmons and Corey Maggette. Absolutely masterful work.
They also traded down from 10 to 19, where they landed Tobias Harris from Tennessee, who has all the look and skills of a Tayshaun Prince. The Bucks, who were a massive disappointment last season to many, myself included, have rearranged themselves back into the playoff picture in the East.
Jackson brings offense, defense, clutch play and veteran leadership–on the court, anyway, not so much off it. With a lightning quick, high scoring point guard, an actual skilled offensive and defensive center in Andrew Bogut, and Captain Jack’s all around play, the Bucks are going to be a team no one wants to play when the playoffs roll around next year.
2. New Jersey Nets
In my draft losers list, I ripped Boston for trading away Marshon Brooks. Well, the Nets were the team on the receiving end of that deal, and will they ever benefit from that! I love Brooks as a player. I think he’s got as good a shot as anyone not named Kanter to be a star at this level. With New Jersey, soon to be Brooklyn, and playing in the backcourt with Deron Williams, Brooks is in an ideal position to make that happen.
In the second round, the Nets picked up big man Jordan Williams from Maryland. Williams is a rebounding machine, and he actually has the makings of a polished post game, as well. With Kris Humphries a restricted free agent coming off of a surprising career year, Williams gives New Jersey the ability to not overpay to keep him. People made such a big deal about Kenneth Faried’s rebounding prowess, and rightly so, with 14 boards a game for tiny Morehead State. Well, Williams is bigger and he nabbed 12 boards a game in the ACC, just slightly better competition, I think.
With this draft, the impending move to Brooklyn, and a big trade chip in Brook Lopez, the Nets are in an excellent position to not only hang on to Deron Williams, but to attract and add another prime time player and become the real superteam in New York.
1. Utah Jazz
As rebuilding franchises go, its hard to peg a team that has done a better job more quickly than the Utah Jazz. Earlier this year, after Jerry Sloan’s sudden retirement followed soon thereafter by the Deron Williams trade, it looked for all the world like the Jazz were a team in chaos. Take a look at them now.
Utah made the most of its two lottery picks this year, getting the guy I believe will turn out to be the best player in the draft in Enes Kanter at 3 and an excellent two guard in Colorado’s Alec Burks at 12. Kanter has a full range of offensive and defensive skills at the center position, and the drive to use them. People talk about guys like Biyombo and Kawhi Leonard having high motors, well Kanter does as well, only he actually has a fine game to go along with it. Barring the rumored knee issues becoming a reality, this guy is a multiple time All Star waiting to happen.
The best thing that could have happened to Utah was for Jimmer Fredette to be off the board when they picked at 12. The pressure to take the BYU alum would have been enormous, and with that not an option, they were free to select Burks, a guy I believe has a bigger upside than Jimmer and is a much better fit.
Utah isn’t done, either. They potentially have two more lottery picks next year, their own if they miss the playoffs, and Golden State’s if it’s outside the top 7. And they have a glut of tradeable assets, particularly in the frontcourt. Along with Kanter, they have Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsapp and Mehmet Okur. Add Devin Harris and those possible draft picks, and Utah could be a trade recipient for virtually any player in the league.
They still have some work to do to fully flesh out their team, but there are very few franchises around with the potential upside the Jazz now possess.
Prior to the draft, I pegged 15 guys who I really liked. That’s not to say that they will all be superstar Hall of Famers, just that I believe that any team landing one of these guys will be getting a pretty good player.
Two teams ended up with two players from this list; the Utah Jazz and the New Jersey Nets, and not coincidentally, they ended up 1-2 on my draft winners list. There were also two teams that got one of these guys that finished on my draft losers list, the Charlotte Bobcats and the Boston Celtics. That’s not to say that I’ve changed my mind about the players they selected, just that I don’t like the fit with that particular team, or, as with the case of Boston, I believed they could have done better.
I’m listing these 15 guys in the order they were drafted. Now it’s up to the NBA and the players to get their collective heads out of their rear ends and get back on the court. I’m anxious to see how this next season plays out, and hopefully not in a court room or negotiating table.
Kyrie Irving, #1, Cleveland Cavaliers
Enes Kanter, #3, Utah Jazz
Jan Vesely, #6, Washington Wizards
Brandon Knight, #8, Detroit Pistons
Kemba Walker, #9, Charlotte Bobcats
Klay Thompson, #11, Golden State Warriors
Alec Burks, #12, Utah Jazz
Nikola Vucevic, #16, Philadelphia 76ers
Kenneth Faried, #22, Denver Nuggets
Marshon Brooks, #25, New Jersey Nets
JaJuan Johnson, #27, Boston Celtics
Norris Cole, #28, Miami Heat
Jordan Williams, #36, New Jersey Nets
Darius Morris, #41, Los Angeles Lakers
Josh Selby, #49, Memphis Grizzlies