NBA Draft Primer

Posted: June 21, 2011 in NBA
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With the threat of the impending doom of a work stoppage, the NBA Draft may be the last chance to talk a little pure basketball for a while.  The conversation will surely shift to revenue percentages, guaranteed contracts, and hard salary caps shortly thereafter, but on Thursday night, it’s all about skills, strategy, measurements and stats, as it should be.

By this point, I’ve read my fair share of mock drafts, player profiles and all manner of trade rumor and innuendo.  So, here, just a few days before Cleveland officially goes on the clock, are some thoughts about the upcoming draft.

Teams to Watch

Cleveland Cavaliers

You can’t start the draft without addressing the Cavs.  Having the 1st and 4th picks, Cleveland really controls the top portion of this draft.  It seems pretty evident that Duke point guard Kyrie Irving will be the top pick, but what happens then?  Do they try to trade up for Minnesota’s pick at 2?  Do they hold out and hope the guy they want at 4 is still around?  Do they trade out of the pick, getting either more picks or more estblished talent or possibly both? 

The Cavs need everything, so what they do here can set the tone for the future of this franchise.  Realistically, J.J. Hickson is the only current keeper on the roster.  I think they draft both pics, but I’d be a little concerned about the drop off after pick number 3.  I believe the Cavs are hoping Turkish center Enes Kanter is still available at 4, to pair him with Irving.  Otherwise, it’s guys like Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight, San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, or a handful of tall, thin euros. 

It comes down to how good they think Irving is.  The draft has a number of point guard prospects that could even reach to Cleveland’s pick at 32.  If they think Irving is a legit Chris Paul type, its a no-brainer.  If not, then they might make a move.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves have the second pick and speculation immediately jumped on them trading out of this slot.  They have no need for Arizona forward Derrick Williams, the consensus number two pick, and don’t appear to have much love for him, either. 

I think it’s a smokescreen to a point.  I believe Minnesota is trying to gauge what someone might be willing to give up for the pick, and failing an overwhelming offer, they can and will draft Kanter, not Williams.  With Ricky Rubio finally coming on board, the biggest obvious hole on the team is at the center position.  This pick is so obvious that I’m surprised that I haven’t yet seen it on one single mock draft.  Is Williams really that much of a can’t miss prospect?  Is he even better than what they already have?

The Wolves, barring a trade, also have the 20th pick.  There very likely won’t be many useful centers at that spot, but you can pick your choice of rotation players at forward or guard.  The draft may not be deep in superstar talent, but there are an array of players stetching into the second round who can be very effective NBA players in the correct circumstance.

You just don’t pass up a quality skilled big man for a player like Williams, in my mind.  Especially when you have a dire need for the one and already have the other.

Utah Jazz

Utah is in an interesting position.  They have two guys from last year’s lottery on their team in Gordon Heyward and Derrick Favors.  They have the 3rd and 12th picks in the lottery this week, and they stand an excellent chance of having two more lottery picks next season, their own and Golden State’s as long as its outside of the top 7 picks.

That’s 6 possible lottery picks added to their roster in three seasons.  Make the right choices, and rebuilding the Jazz could get a whole lot quicker.

The popular assumption seems to be that the Jazz will take Knight at number 3.  I think that’s a reach.  They have the same problem as Minnesota regarding Williams, too.  They have Heyward, Favors, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in the frontcourt already.  None of those guys are really centers.  Again, Kanter, if available should be the pick.  If not, then it’ll be Knight or a trade.

Picking at 12, Utah can still nab a point there, or skip the position until next year and draft for other needs, like a two guard.  They do have Devin Harris, still.  And next year’s draft is reported to be much deeper.

Houston Rockets

Houston has a new coach and a new approach.  Having just missed out on the playoffs, the Rockets are closer than most lottery teams to getting into the post season party.  They also have the benefit of two first round picks, numbers 14 and 23, as well as number 38 in the second round.  They could well add three quality players with those picks, or package some or all of them to move up or acquire some much needed talent.

The most glaring hole, like Minnesota, is at the center position.  With all their assets, Houston could conceivably move up enough to land Kanter, but I think that’s unlikely.  Point guard is another spot that is a glaring problem, and one Houston may be far more likely to trade up in an attempt to fill.  The question is, who do they like enough to trade up for?

Don’t be surprised if Houston is one of the most active teams on draft night, and look for them to land a point man for the future and shore up the front court.

Washington Wizards

Last years lottery winners have two picks this year, numbers 6 and 18, to add pieces around John Wall.  They also have the 34th pick high in the second round.

What kind of players will the Wizards go with?  Their first pick will almost certainly be a forward, but which one?  Do they go with an undersized hustle guy like San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard?  Do they go with raw youth and defensive energy of someone like Bismack Biyombo of the Congo?  Or how about the 6’11” dynamo from the Czech Republic Jan Vesely?  The answer to that question could determine whether or not we see Washington back here again next year.

The later pick could provide some intriguing possibilities.  Namely Marshon Brooks from Providence.  Brooks seems to be climbing draft boards closer and closer to the lottery, and well he should, but it’s entirely possible he’s still on the board at 18.  After all, less than two months ago, he was widely pegged as a second round pick.

If the Wizards somehow manage to come out of this draft will a duo of Vesely and Brooks, watch out!  Washington won’t be door mats for much longer.

High Picks Who Will Produce

Kenneth Fareid, Morehead State

I love hustle guys who do the dirty work and Faried is just that. His offensive game is pretty non-existent, but he’s got the capacity to be a rebounding machine, play excellent defense and be a glue guy for a contending team.  He’ll never be flashy or be an all-NBA guy, but he will be one of those players you simply can’t win without.

Alec Burks, Colorado

Burks has the potential to be one of the top shooting guards in this class.  He’s got all the skills to be a first rate scorer, and has the athleticism and quickness to be at least a useful defender.  But, as the point guard craze has taken hold, I’ve seen suggestions of teams drafting him to move him to the point. 

Burks is not a point guard, and any attempt to make him one will stifle his development.  Provided he lands with a team with a need at the two, Burks will more than capably fill that role.  Try to squeeze his round two-guard skills into the square point guard hole, then it’s an entirely different story.  Burks will be a player in this league, it just remains to be seen if it’ll be with the team that drafts him.

Kemba Walker, Connecticut

Do I think Kemba Walker should be in the discussion with Irving and Knight as the best point guards in this draft?  No.  Do I think he can be a very good NBA player? Absolutely. 

Walker’s not a prototypical point guard, but he’s too small to be a two.  In the right situation, I can see walker as a Jameer Nelson type, only a more explosive scorer.  At best, a Gilbert Arenas pre injury and insanity.  Walker’s got the drive and the confidence to succeed.  He’s just not what I would call a point guard in the traditional sense.

Brandon Knight, Kentucky

Knight is what I would call a point guard in the traditional sense.  The NBA is a league made for quick point guards.  It’s no accident that guys like that are putting up big numbers all over the league.  Rules changes have made these guys into a monster.  Knight will be no exception, as he becomes the fourth Calipari point in a row to make a name for himself in the league.

I wasn’t totally sold on Knight until the tournament when he showed the capacity to run a team, and the judgement of when to pass and when to score that you look for in a lead guard.  He’s got the skills.  Given a fair opportunity, he’ll be a fixture for a long time.

Kyrie Irving, Duke

See Brandon Knight above.  Same song, different verse.  Small quick point guard, league’s a playground for these guys, he’ll be pretty good.

That said, I almost left Irving off this list.  I have my doubts, and I am definitely not about to spout Chris Paul comparisons.  I simply haven’t seen enough of Irving to be sure.  I saw potential, flashes of brilliance, but not the total package on the floor at once.  Is he capable of it?  Possibly. 

He’s got talent and potential enough that it’s hard to argue with him as the top pick, its just that there’s more of a dark unknown about him than any other player being talked about this high in the draft. Still, I’d be shocked if he doesn’t spend the next 10 or 12 years starting for somebody.


Jordan Williams, Maryland

Williams is tough, physical and can add skilled size to any team’s front line.  Do you like what DuJuan Blair does for San Antonio?  Well, Williams can do that, only better.  Oddly, the Spurs might be able to draft Williams at 29.  If they do, they’ll happily send thank you cards to the 28 teams drafting in front of them.

Norris Cole, Cleveland State

He’s a little guy from a little school but he’s got a big time game.  There are several point guards in this draft with a chance to be very good at the next level.  Cole is one of them. 

He’s quick, has the potential to be a solid defender despite his size, has a nice shot and knows how to get to the free throw line. 
He’s gonna slip probably into the second round.  Think Miami wouldn’t like a guy like Cole when they pick at 31?  Have you seen Mike Bobby play?

Darius Morris, Michigan

The Morris twins from Kansas get all the press, but I’m betting in five years, the only Morris anyone knows from this draft is Darius.  Another one of those point guards, like Cole, who have a skill set that fits very nicely in the modern NBA.

He’s big, 6’5″ or so, aggressive and is an excellent passer.  He’s just not a very good shooter, as yet.  Shooting is a skill that can be learned.  His kind of court vision, not so much.

Nikola Vucevic, USC

How is it that a legit seven footer with a polished low post game who can pop out and hit 16-18 foot jumpers all day may slide out to end of the first round and possibly early second?  Well, he’s slower than molasses. 

Put in the right situation where he’s not asked to do too much on defense and Vucevic can be a very effective center.  Like say, Chicago, where he can play beside an active, defensive minded big and become the low post threat Carlos Boozer was supposed to be. 

Josh Selby, Kansas

Selby is an interesting case, had he been able to come out straight from high school, he almost certainly would have been picked at or near the top of the draft.  But after a disastrous year at Kansas, he could still be available midway through the second round.  Whoever takes him will not regret it.

Selby, like Walker, isn’t a point guard.  What he is is a quick, aggressive scorer who has the potential to be great.  There are many concerns about his time at KU, most notably his attitude that needs a bit of adjustment.  But what better reformation than a humbling drop from guaranteed millions to not even sure of a roster spot in the league.

Selby simply wasn’t a good fit at Kansas or with coach Bill Self.  He’s a good example of why I dislike the age limit in the NBA.  He could have been in the NBA last season, could have been chasing his dream and pursuing the course he wanted but he was forced into the NCAA gauntlet, a place he didn’t want to be and had little patience for the hypocrisy and mounds of counter intuitive rules designed to keep high profile athletes like him from actually benefittng from their positions.  I wouldn’t like it either.  Couple that with a coach who, at times, appeared to have little interest in finding a defined role and minutes for Selby on what was one of the deepest teams in the country, and you’ve got the recipe from a big fall from grace.

But Selby’s talent has not changed.  If he gets his head straight, he’s now where he wanted to be all along, and can excel at this level.  The farther he slips, the bigger a steal he’s going to be. 

Busts In Waiting

Jimmer Fredette, BYU

There’s talk that Sacramento is considering Jimmer at number 7.  Sure, if they’re trying to expedite a franchise shift to Anaheim.  There’s also a prevailing opinion that Utah would be crazy to pass up the hometown BYU alum.  Well, to draw a comparison, the Indiana Pacers were under tons of pressure back in the ’80s to select Indiana’s Steve Alford as the home town hero.  The Pacers instead went with a scrawny kid from UCLA who’s sister was more famous as a basketball player, much to local chagrin.  Alford washed out of the NBA, and the guy they took, Reggie Miller, well, that worked out okay, I think.

Jimmer’s a volume scorer with little in the way of game management or defensive skills. To be certain, he’s an exceptional shooter with great range, but then so were guys like J.J. Reddick, and it took him five years to find even limited minutes at all in the league.

If you could take a flyer on Jimmer late in the first round or in the second round, then it’s worth a shot, but picking him in the lottery is like a pull up 30 footer.  Sure, you might make it, but 90% of the time, it’s a bad miss.

Chris Singleton, Florida State

Okay, he has the size and athleticism to be a good to great defender in the league.  What else can he do?  He can’t create his own shot, he’s a bad finisher at the rim relative to his athleticism, his shot is streaky at best, and downright bad if he’s not gifted squared up open looks with time to line it up, and he has no post game, even at 6’9″, and horrible footwork on the offensive end.

To be short, the guys a one trick pony.  To be sure, there’s a place in the league for exceptional defenders with size, but he brings nothing else to the table.  A player destined to be no better than the 8th or 9th guy off the bench at best simply doesn’t rate a lottery pick, or even a slot in the first round, in my opinion.

Bismack Biyombo, Congo

Raw, raw and very raw.  That’s the best description for Biyombo.  Other than hustle and a high motor, he’s got absolutely no NBA quality skills.  That would be okay if he is actually 18, but he could be as old as 23.  His lack of polish looks a whole lot more ominous at 23.

Biyombo is being talked about as another Serge Ibaka, but even Ibaka had a better all around game entering the league.  Biyombo strikes me as another in the long line of foreign flops at the NBA level.  He’s the kind of guy who plays best off of other players, crashing the boards, blocking shots, etc.  If he goes to a bad team, like say Toronto or Detroit, he’ll fade into obscurity rather quickly. 

I could be compelled to change this notion if a playoff caliber team trades up and nabs him.  Someone who can provide him a clearly defined role and work him in slowly as a rotation player without asking him to do too much.  But failing that, it’s bust all the way.

Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State

I’m not certain how Leonard got this high in the draft to begin with.  He certainly shows a lot of energy and he rebounded well in college, but a 6’7″ perimeter player with a flat, streaky jumper, no left hand, questionable defense and poor court vision just doesn’t strike me as a top 5 or 6 pick.

Size is the biggest problem.  He’s got a perimeter game but not the skills or polish to keep up with NBA level perimeter players.  Couple that with the fact that he vanished during big games and you’ve got a guy who’s more hype than legit hope.

Derrick Williams, Arizona

Yes, that’s right, Williams is going to bomb in the NBA.  Well, not exactly bomb, but he’s no superstar in waiting.  For everyone out there won over by Williams this year, I’ve got two words for you:  Joe Smith.

For those too young to remember Smith as anything other than a journeyman forward, when he was at Maryland, Smith showed a game similar to Williams.  Both guys were long and athletic, both guys could pop out and hit jumpers at nice clips, both guys showed aggression around the rim, and both guys looked to be stars at the next level.

While Smith had a couple decent years very early in his career, he eventually settled into a niche as rotation depth.  Williams will go a similar way.  Smith has had a long and respectable career, just not what you expect from a top pick.  Williams is destined to leave whoever takes him at number two similarly wanting.

The Best Players in This draft

Klay Thompson, Washington State

A prototypical two with the sweetest stroke in the draft, sorry Jimmer, Thompson is destined to be a top notch player at the NBA level. 

He can create his own shot, is an exceptional scorer and excels in the half court game.  Thompson, despite flying a bit under the radar, is a scoring star waiting to happen.

JaJuan Johnson, Purdue

The curse of the tweener, Johnson is widely seen as too small for a post player but too slow for a perimeter player.  Nonsense.  Johnson has good footwork, has the ability to defend, possesses an improving jumper out to mid range, and knows how to get to the free throw line, shooting at a near 80% clip there.

Johnson is one of the top, most polished frontcourt players in this draft.  So much hype is given to guys like Leonard, Biyombo and others who don’t possess Johnson’s total game, and he’s expected to likely fall into the second round because of it.  This guy’s a player, and if he ends up with someone like Miami or Chicago, watch out!

Jan Vesely, Czech Republic

A 6’11” guy who plays like a wing?  Vesely can become the matchup nightmare at the small forward position that Dirk has become for power forwards.  Explosive in transition, Vesely would thrive in an uptempo game, and he’s slowly developing a solid jumper with range out to the three point line. 
He’s got the length and lateral quickness to defend well, and unlike some others in this draft, is a high energy hustle guy who has a game beyond that.  He may not play in the NBA right away, but he will soon enough, and he will be a highlight reel star.

Marshon Brooks, Providence

How is this guy not a top 10 pick?  It’s inexplicable to me that he was actually considered a second rounder early on in the draft process.  Making a modest prediction, Brooks will be the first guy in this draft class to play in an NBA all star game. 

He’s equally adept at shooting off the bounce as he is at catch and shoot.  He has the size, length and lateral quickness to eventually be an effective defender.  Plus, he averaged over 7 boards a game at Providence as a 6’5″ shooting guard.

This guy knows how to fill it up, and he will do that quite nicely at the next level.

Enes Kanter, Turkey

Kanter is, in my opinion, simply the best player available in this draft.  He has a smooth, highly skilled offensive game combined with a high motor, desire to rebound and strong urge to bang in the post.  To put it in basic terms, this is the next great center in the league.

The only drawback, and its a potential biggie, is the condition of his knees.  Especially after the travails of Portland with Greg Oden and Houston with Yao Ming, teams may be a little gun shy to take that risk.

But this draft possesses very few all NBA type talents, and Kanter is definitely one of those, more so than Irving or Williams, in my opinion.  I think his knees hold up, early on at least, and hard questions will be asked of the teams that passed on him.  

  1. Chris Ross says:

    Great post man. This draft is going to be real interesting. It is no doubt a weak draft but I think at the same time you are bound to find some hidden gems in the draft. I mean, guys like Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry are bound to come up. There’s a lot of supposedly mediocre talent and I wonder if teams picking in the 3-10 range will be better served to take a risk rather than going with someone that only has the ceiling of being a solid NBA producer. Everyone’s mock drafts I read seem to be different so it will be fun to see where each player goes and how much wheeling and dealing goes on during draft day. Also, you think you could check out my blog cuz I’d love to hear what you have to say

    • Dan Meadows says:

      I agree, after the top couple guys, either reach for someone or trade down if you can. There may be more value found 11-25 than 5-10. I’m excited. It may be a weak draft on star power but there are useful players scattered throughout, and its way up in the air how things will go. I expect there will be a fair number of trades, too, on the order of 6 to 8 in the first round. May be the most unpredictable draft I’ve seen.

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