No matter who you are, this is the time of year where the sports world starts to slow down a bit. Even some of the old, baseball loving elitists who contribute to this fair blog would have to agree with me here. Yet, while some are excited about the game of baseball taking center stage all to itself for the next couple of months, I'm generally pretty annoyed by it. Whether you enjoy baseball or not, I think we can all agree that baseball highlights are, less than riveting. I truly dread this time of year. Starting at 10 pm, ESPN essentially runs baseball highlights for 2-3 hours straight. It's the same story every year for me. The NBA playoffs end and I quickly realize that my life is going to be filled with baseball highlights, talk and articles until mid-August. That is, of course, right after the NBA Draft concludes. I love the NBA Draft. First, because I love the NBA. Second, because I love televised drafts (I will admit this is also less than riveting television, for most) and finally, because it's my last "sporting event" that I can be excited about until football returns in the late summer/fall.
Its with that in mind that I sat down to put together my (kind of) annual NBA Draft post for Gheorghe: The Blog. Many are calling this the worst draft EVER. Which, is how we seemingly label everything in sports now. Everything is historic, whether it be bad or good. Well, I'm here to say that while this draft lacks great, marketable stars at the top, there's actually plenty of quality depth in this draft. If you're smart, there are plenty of rotation guys (and some starters) to be had on Thursday night. Only time will tell, but I'm still going with 2000 as the worst draft ever.
Don't believe me? Here are some names of guys who went in the lottery in 2000: Stromile Swift (2), Darius Miles (3), Marcus Fizer (4), DerMarr Johnson (6), Chris Mihm (7), Joel Pryzbilla (9), Keyon Dooling (10), Jerome Moiso (11), Etan Thomas (12), Courtney Alexander (13). I'm sorry folks, that is a historically terrible draft. And I didn't even mention the guys who went later in the first round that year. Guys like: Mateen Cleaves, Jason Collier, Jamaal Magloire, Donnell Harvey, Dalibor Bagaric, Jake Tsakalidis, Mamadou N'Diaye, Primoz Brezec & Mark Madsen. I mean, seriously, read through that list again. About half of the first round didn't last 8 years in the league. Do you know who won the Rookie of the Year out of this draft? Mike Miller. A nice player, but hardly anyone who should take home Rookie of the Year honors. How about the best player out of that first round? It's a toss up between Kenyon Martin and Hedo Turkoglu. I'll let you decide.
So, yes, this isn't the strongest draft in recent memory but it's hardly the only time in recent memory where the draft lacked star power. As I said earlier, there are plenty of good players in this draft. There are also plenty of potential busts. That's what makes this year's draft so interesting. The teams that are successful this year will be those that correctly identify their needs and (more importantly) the players that have skills that translate to the NBA game.
Here are some of the draft eligible players whom I find most noteworthy:
Bismack Biyombo: I like him because his name is Bismack Biyombo. That's a given. I also saw him in the Nike Hoop Summit game this year. He's raw but he's a great athlete with fantastic defensive instincts near the rim. And he played good minutes in the ACB League in Spain which is arguably the best league in Europe. He has real NBA skills as a rebounder/shot blocker. He's probably closer to 22 than his listed 18 though.
Norris Cole: I like him just because of his completely awesome high top fade. He's also really, really good. He put up gaudy numbers at Cleveland State this year without being a complete chucker and he's gotten a lot of buzz in workouts. He'll go in the second round but he'll play minutes next year.
Chris Singleton: Already has a legit NBA skill. He can defend 2 through 4, and often 1 through 4 right now in the NBA. His offensive game is a work in progress but he's got size and is a decent enough spotup shooter that you could very easily see him becoming a very proficient shooter of the corner 3. Think a bigger, more athletic Bruce Bowen.
Kenneth Faried; He's a beast. Only about 6'8" but he'll leadthe league in rebounds before he's done. A really good athlete with a great motor. His offense is pretty raw too but he'll get enough points on sheer effort and strength that he'll be a valuable contributor.
Jonas Valnciunas: This is more about value. Apparently a ton of people in Cleveland like him at 4 but he's going to be in Europe for one more year because of his buyout so it looks like they're going to pass. And so are a bunch of other teams. Many of which are doing so for the same reason as Cleveland. Because they want the immediate splash of a new player, this year. Which begs the question. Wouldn't you want the better player? For the next 10 years? Plus, can you really go wrong with a Lithuanian Center?
Iman Shumpert: Workout warrior. He has every thing you could ask ever for physically in a point guard. 6'4". 40 inch vert
Marcus Morris: When I look at him I just see too many red flags. Closer to 6'8 than 6'10". Not a great athlete or overly strong. Has talked about how he has small forward skills in draft interviews. I can't see him being starting 4 on a good team in the league. Reminds me too much of Drew Gooden, except not as good a rebounder.
Travis Leslie: Possibly the best athlete in the draft. But he's a little undersized for the 2 and doesn't shoot with consistency or create well off the dribble. He's young and played the post in high school so there's room for growth but it just feels like a reach that's based solely on athletic potential. I'm hoping he at least goes to a team he can actually play for next year. Only because I want to see him shit himself when Tony Allen gets all over him, still fuming about Leslie's pre-draft comments denigrating Mr. Allen's game.
Brandon Knight: More than likely, the third pick in the draft. But, I just don't see it. As point guards go he's not especially quick or bouncy and I've never felt like he has some wonderful feel for the game and how to set up his teammates when I watch him. He shoots well and he hit some big shots for Kentucky in the tournament (he also had some 3-13 games) but that's not nearly enough for the third pick. Not for me at least. He's only 19 and a supposedly great kid (4.0 student, model citizen, etc.) so I'm willing to allow he's got a higher ceiling than most of the other guards in this draft but still...I just don't see it. Not as a point guard.
Either Way (guys I'm either not sure about or whose futures heavily depend on where they end up)
Josh Selby: Tons of athletic ability. Would've been a high 1st rounder had he entered the draft out of high school last year. But a bad fit at Kansas and injuries severely hurt his stock in this draft. He still has tons of potential, though he's much more of a 2 than a 1. Could be in the mold of Monta Ellis if he ends up in the right system. Or he could end buried on some teams bench for his entire rookie contract.
Enes Kanter: I first saw him at last year's Hoop Summit where he was absolutely dominant inside to the tune of 30 and 12 (or something close to that). And this was in 25 minutes while going head to head with Jared Sullinger. He looked like a beast. Unfortunately, he hasn't played a single game since. He played one year of prep school ball in the US and even that was at a pretty low level prep school in terms of competition (think where Geoff went, as opposed to an Oak Hill or Montrose Christian. So, essentially, nobody has seen him play extensively against good competition since he was 16 and living in Turkey. It's tough be sure about anybody with that little to go on. I think he's going to be a really good big man. I think. I don't know for sure. Nobody knows for sure.
Klay Thompson: Best shooter in the draft. That's the word from scouts. He's also got NBA size (6'7") and an NBA pedigree (son of Mychal Thompson). However, he lacks great athleticism and doesn't show a consistent ability to create shots off the dribble. Even more worrisome is the fact that his offensive numbers have dropped across the board each of the last two years once he entered PAC-10 play. That says, to me, that the better competition of conference play made him less effective. Though, the argument could be made that much of this was due to him being the only real offensive option at Wazzu. A lot of his success will depend on those around him and the system he ends up in. (Looks now like Thompson is going in the top 10...seems high to me)
Jordan Hamilton/MarshonBrooks: The two biggest gunners in this draft (which says something when Jimmer is involved in the same draft). One will succeed and one will flameout and be in Europe within 5 years. If pushed, I'd go with Hamilton to succeed. His shot selection improved dramatically between his freshman & sophomore years, he's played with much better talent during his career than Brooks and he's a bigger, sturdier athlete. This is really just a guess though. Like I said. One will succeed, one will flameout.
Kemba Walker: I don't know if you've noticed, but there's a bit of a Kemba backlash going on. He's too short, he's not a point guard, we're all binded by the tournament run he made with UConn. Some of this may be true. However, he measured at over 6'0" which is taller than guys like Ty Lawson, Darren Collison, Jameer Nelson & Kyle Lowry so he's not THAT short. He's played point guard every year until he moved off the ball (at times) to accommodate the best possible lineups for UCONN so that point is moot, in my opinion. Here's what I think: Walker is somewhere between Ty Lawson and Jonny Flynn. He's not as good a passer as Lawson and he's a better shooter than Flynn. His instincts are more scoring than passing, but not by a wide margin. It's all about fit for him. If he ends up in an uptempo system like Lawson he'll be successful. If he's stuck running the triangle, or some other rigid halfcourt offense, like Flynn then he's going to struggle.
Sleepers (late first round or second round picks)
Jeremy Tyler: You've heard of Tyler before, even if you don't remember. He was a high school kid from San Diego who decided to skip his senior year and sign a contract in Israel. Shockingly, things didn't work out and Tyler ended up leaving Israel mid-season after disappointing play and even more disappointingly immature behavior. Since then, he's had former Spurs (and Fordham) Head Coach Bob Hill working with him, and even coaching him in a pro league in Japan. He's just now 19 and has reportedly grown up significantly in the past 3 years. Add that to the fact that he's 6'11", very athletic and already has a great physique and you have a player with as much upside as any player in this draft. I'd be shocked if he lasted past the end of the first round.
Tyler Honeycutt: Honeycutt is a versatile, 6'8" small forward who led the PAC-10 in blocks this year. Read that last part again. Pretty impressive. And it says a lot about his athletic potential. Honeycutt is still fairly raw offensively but he's got great size, a good motor and he's just a sophomore. Combine that with the recent history of UCLA players being much better offensive players once they're out of Ben Howland's system and there's potential for Honeycutt to develop into a starting 3 in the NBA within a few years.
Jimmy Butler: He fits into my Tayshaun Prince/Josh Howard theory for athletic wings who played four years of college ball and were productive across all the offensive statistical categories. He also hails from Marquette, which has begun to develop a reputation for producing underrated wings who are great "glue guys" since Buzz Williams took over at Marquette (Wes Matthews, Lazar Hayward). The signs are there for Butler. At the very least, he'll prove to be a solid rotation wing player. I believe there's a shot he can become much more. Plus, read this story and tell me you wont root for this guy.
Norris Cole: See above. Cole's going to start at point for someone in the league. And sooner than you think.
Charles Jenkins: He's bigger than I thought at 6'2.5" and he has enough point guard skills that he can play both guard spots coming off the bench. If he can continue to improve his jumpshot, he could be a great third guard for a contender. A team like the Bulls could really use his offensive creativity and versatility in combination with Derrick Rose late in games.
Chandler Parsons: Another player who fits the Prince/Howard theory. He has 1st round talent but there are concerns about his toughness. While I wont dismiss these straight away, I will offer a differing opinion. For Parsons, it not about toughness as much as it is about confidence. Until this year, he was never the best player on any team he'd ever played on, going all the way back to junior high. He always played in the shadow of friend and former Mavericks draft pick Nick Calathes. It was that way in high school and during his first two years at Florida. After Calathes left, it took Parsons until nearly mid-season of his senior year to realize he was Florida's best player and his play would determine how far the Gators advanced. Once that clicked and Parson became more aggressive, Florida went from a team that lost to Jacksonville and UCF in the early season to a team that was one shot away from reaching the Final Four. According to scouts, he's been very impressive in workouts all throughout the draft process. I'm guessing he slides to the second round. I'm also guessing he'll end up as one of the top 15 players in this draft.
Note on the #1 & #2 picks: Normally I don't talk about the first or second picks as they are considered near sure things. This year's draft is different though. Both Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams have their detractors and those that doubt they'll ever even become all-stars. Allow me to share my opinion(s).
Irving: He's not Chris Paul. Okay, Who else is? When healthy Chris Paul is the best point guard on the planet. Irving is good at everything, dominant at nothing. This doesn't make him a bad point guard. In fact, I'm willing to bet Irving makes 5-8 all-star teams. He's bigger than you think (6'3"), shoots it better than any elite PG outside of Deron Williams, defends his position extremely well and has shown a willingness to take and make big shots (Hoop Summit 2009). Even in a strong draft, Irving is worthy of a top 5 pick.
Williams: People keep calling him a tweener. I don't agree. The NBA has gotten smaller along the frontline. This is primarily a product of the way basketball has evolved. Its a more wide open, perimeter oriented game. It's a pick and roll/pick and pop game. Power forwards aren't built like Karl Malone or Derrick Coleman anymore(whoop-de-damn-do), and they don't play like them either. Williams is a legit 6'9" with a standing reach (which matters more than height) that's two inches longer than Blake Griffin. Williams should be very effective facing up and taking less mobile 4s to the basket. As he develops a better post game, he 'll be able to abuse spindly small forwards on the block. My biggest concern with Williams is that he "sees himself" as a 3, or at least that's what he keeps telling teams. If Williams is bent on proving he's a 3 who can shoot from distance and handle the ball in pick and roll situations, well, that's trouble and could adversely effect his NBA career. He's not a headcase like Michael Beasley though so any decent coach should be able to iron that out. We hope. If not, his career will look a lot more like Al Harrington than Blake Griffin. Also, Williams must become a more willing defender than he's shown in college. There are just too many prolific scorers at the 4 in today's NBA for him to succeed on a contender if he's unwilling, or unable, to be at least a solid defender.
So, anybody else excited? I thought so. See you in the comments for the Jay Bilas/NBADraft drinking game.