Just a few days removed from the conclusion of the NBA Finals and the draft is already just two days away. Gotta love the shortened season.
Just a week separates the biggest day for the leagues best teams and the biggest one for its worst. But one good pick could catapult some teams in the lottery into the playoffs. Here’s a look at how I think the first round of Thursday’s draft will play out.
A pretty obvious pick for the Hornets. The recent trade of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza will allow New Orleans cap room to re-sign Eric Gordon and could also allow them to add another Free Agent to help with the rebuilding project. Davis will be the centerpiece of this team for years and the Hornets could be back in playoff contention in just a year or two.
This pick is tough to project, as there is no clear cut second-best player in the draft. For this reason Charlotte has been looking to trade this pick for some young talent. Assuming they keep the pick, Robinson is a safe pick to make. While he’s super athletic and a great rebounder, a lot of scouts don’t seem too optimistic about his upside. Even if he doesn’t exhibit a lot of growth in the NBA, the Bobcats will still get an above-average starting big man with this pick.
Beal would be the perfect backcourt complement to John Wall. While Wall is the slashing passer, Beal is a knockdown three-point shooter who could really help the Wizards space the floor. With the addition of Okafor at center and Ariza at small forward, and Nene playing power forward, Washington has a decent starting five to build around.
Dan Gilbert failed in his promise to bring Cleveland a title before LeBron won, but drafting MKG could help boost the Cavs one step closer to the playoffs. Kidd-Gilchrist’s biggest skill is just what the Cavs need: he is a winner. His desire to win makes him one of the toughest competitors and a nightmare on defense.
In many respects Barnes is the perfect player for the Kings and in many he’s the opposite. For a team that has struggled with immaturity, mainly from DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, Barnes could really provide the team an emotion stability that could be important to help Sacramento’s young talent make the most of that talent. However Barnes’ skill set duplicates some of the team’s problems. He loves to shoot. Unfortunately, so do Evans, Cousins, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Freddette, Donte Green, and John Salmons. Will there be enough shots left for Barnes to make his mark?
The Blazers are in a tough spot here. Andre Drummond is still on the board and he has the athletic ability to be a terrific center. But the last time Portland drafted a center with potential and question marks, things didn’t turn out too well. Then again, passing on an elite talent that could provide production at the center spot that Greg Oden couldn’t stay healthy enough to do could be an even bigger mistake.
Ultimately I think the Blazers play it safe with Lillard. He has some question marks of his own, having not faced elite competition (his refusal to take part in group workouts hasn’t helped answer those questions), but he is a much more complete prospect at this point. And since Portland is in a “retooling” faze rather than full blown rebuilding, they can’t afford to wait a few years for Drummond to produce.
The Warriors are also in a tough spot here. They could draft Drummond and hope he develops behind two talented bigs in David Lee and Andrew Bogut. But given Golden State’s history of big men who become busts, that could scare them off.
The Dubs could also go with Dion Waiters, a slashing shooting guard compared to a middle class man’s (is that a phrase? It is now) Dwyane Wade, to replace the role Monta Ellis had. However, the Steph Curry/Ellis backcourt didn’t work. Plus, the Warriors drafted their 2 guard of the future – Klay Thompson – last year. GM Bob Myers has said the team is just hoping to stockpile “assets” which would give them pieces to either develop or trade. Ultimately, Drummond’s potential will give him trade value even if he hasn’t developed, and he could yield the bigger return for Warriors – through trade or development.
Toronto has a bit of a bad reputation for being a “soft” team, stemming perhaps from their center, Andrea Bargnani, who prefers to launch threes than fight for rebounds. But last year’s pick, Jonas Valanciunas, is coming this year and he projects to be a solid center. Drafting Waiters could help that problem even further, adding toughness on the perimeter. He has been described as a “bulldog” and while his style of play – driver and not a great outside shooter – seems duplicative of Demar DeRozan, Waiters has the upside to be a contributor beyond just dunk contests.
Detroit’s main issue they hoped to address in the draft was shot blocking and rebounding, and given Drummond’s uncertainty, he could easily slip this far and provide a perfect solution for Detroit. In this case, the Pistons will have to settle for Henson, who provides both blocking and rebounding. However his rail thin frame won’t allow Detroit to slide Greg Monroe over to PF. Not the perfect fit, but Henson can hit a mid range shot, and help hide Monroe’s struggles on defense.
Marshall certainly isn’t the flashiest of players, given his lack of speed, athleticism, or shooting touch. But the kid can pass the ball, and that’s exactly what the Hornets need. He can help with Anthony Davis’ development by giving him the ball in positions to succeed and the Hornets could run some alley oop plays much as Kentucky was so successful doing. Marshall’s defensive struggles could easily be masked by Davis’ stifling help defense and shot blocking.
Three Tarheels in a row! Again, Portland is looking for some immediate help in the draft to take full advantage of LaMarcus Aldridge while he’s still in his prime. Zeller has limited upside, after four years of college, but he did improve significantly in his final two years, so he might still have room to grow. Regardless, Zeller will be able to contribute immediately and could help the Blazers make a playoff push next year. He’ll bring added size and rebounding to Portland’s frontcourt, as well as a solid mid range shot and excellent speed for his size.
Having dealt Andrew Bogut, the Bucks now have a glaring hole in the middle. Leonard is incredibly athletic and would bring a different look at that position than Bogut did. However he is still raw offensively, so Milwaukee shouldn’t expect him to contribute immediately. But adding an athletic center to a young athletic team that also features Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis could bring the Bucks a lot of highlights, if not wins.
With Nash’s contract having expired, the Suns could likely need a new playmaker in the backcourt. Rivers is certainly no Steve Nash. While Nash looked to get his teammates involved, Rivers does the opposite, looking to create for himself and score. But he certainly does it well. Rivers is a bit of a concern in that he lacks the size and athleticism of a shooting guard, but does not possess the pass first mentality of a point guard. Either way, he has star potential thanks to his killer crossover and could be the face of the franchise as the Steve Nash era comes to a close in Phoenix.
The Rockets have been at a crossroads for several years. They can never quite get good enough to be a legitimate contender, but can never be bad enough to get a high enough draft pick to lift them to the next level. So while they already have a talented shooting guard in Kevin Martin, the Rockets at this point just need to take the best player available and stock pile assets. Lamb has a similar game to Martin and could make him expendable in a trade.
Three-point shooting has been the Achilles Heel of the Sixers for a while now, but drafting Ross could change that. Although he was dumb enough to compare himself to the ever-enigmatic JR Smith, Ross could still help Philly improve. He has deep range on his jumper and fits in well with the 76ers athletic style of play, being quite the leaper himself. Like Smith, though, his shot selection can be atrocious at times and his ball handling needs work. Ross is still a terrific offensive player and could contribute early on for Philadelphia.
Jones is an intriguing talent, possessing the skills to play both inside and out. The question is, however, is he good enough at either to be able to take advantage of it in the NBA. He has a decent three-point shot, but it’s inconsistent. He’s a good ball handler and passer, but is he quick enough to get past people? And his strength could make him dominant in the post, but he seems to prefer to drift by the perimeter. Despite the questions, Jones is talented, and given that the Rockets have the 14th and 18th picks as well, they can afford to reach a bit.
Jones might just be the biggest enigma of the draft. He stuns scouts with his athleticism and versatility one minute, then scares them off with inconsistent outside shot, guard’s mentality, and lack of toughness the next. Giving him a chance to sit behind one of the league’s greatest inside-out forwards in Dirk Nowitzki could be great for Jones. Jones is no where near the same shooter Dirk is, but can still be given time to develop by being on a playoff team where the pressure for him to contribute isn’t on him from the start.
The Rockets traded Chase Budinger to Minnesota for this pick, and it appears the Rockets are stock piling first round picks in the hopes of trying to package them in a trade, perhaps for Dwight Howard. Josh Smith is said to be a fall back option for the Rockets.
If they keep all three picks, however, Moultrie coud be their guy here. He could easily be this year’s Kenneth Faried, given his high rebound numbers in college and his athleticism. But while Moultrie is more skilled than Faried, he lacks the “Manimal’s” energy and motor. Still, Moultrie could be a solid rotation big for a playoff team.
Orlando has to know that Dwight Howard is not going to stick around, so they might as well draft for potential since the Magic most likely won’t be contending in the next few years. Harkless can jump, and at this point in the draft if there is someone who is 6′-9″ and has athleticism he tends to get drafted, even if the rest of his game is lacking. That’s basically the case with Harkless. He can dunk, rebound, and block shots thanks to his athleticism, but needs to develop basically everything else. But if he does round his game out, that skill combined with his athleticism could make him a good player.
Sullinger, once considered a top-10 talent, is expecte to drop on draft night after having his back red-flagged medically. He is also undersized and not a great athlete for the PF position. The last person with those 3 criteria to fall in a draft was DaJuan Blair and he’s proven to be a steal for the Spurs. Sullinger knows how to rebound, can hit a mid-range shot, and can score in the post (as long as his defender isn’t too tall or athletic). I think, worst case scenario, Sullinger could be a Glen Davis type player for the Nuggets.
The Celtics have reportedly promised this pick to White and he has pulled out his remaining workouts and interviews. And for a player with White’s question marks, not having the opportunity to talk with him could scare teams from drafting him. While being one of the draft’s most intriguing players, given his combination of size and passing skills, White suffers from Anxiety Disorder. This results in him having difficulty flying, which is kind of a big deal in the NBA. But Boston could be the perfect place for White to thrive if he overcomes his mental obstacles. Paul Pierce’s career is heading towards its last stages and he could be a great model for White to develop his scoring game around.
Boston is at a tough place. They just came within 1 win of the NBA Finals, but might already need to shift to rebuilding mode. Kevin Garnett has been mulling retirement, Ray Allen has expressed interest in taking his talents to South Beach and playing for the Miam Heat, and it seems the Big 3 will be going their separate ways. So do the Celtics draft for potential or NBA readiness for one final title push?
Drafting Melo could be a compromise. He’s a bit of a project offensively, but he has a lot of upside. However he is already a great interior defender and could bring Boston the same qualities they had in Kendrick Perkins.
Atlanta has been cursed at PG ever since skipping over both Deron Williams and Chris Paul to instead draft Marvin Williams. Jeff Teague has been decent for them, but could use an upgrade. Wroten has a chance to be a really special given his height (6′-6″), athleticism, and passing ability. However he cannot hit an outside shot to save his life and has a reputation of being a terrible teammate. But given Wroten’s potential to be a taller version of Rajon Rondo, the Hawks need to roll the dice on this pick.
Nicholson is a big who can really shoot from the outside. He draws a lot of comparisons to David West, but also has some similarities to the Cavs’ Antawn Jamison. Nicholson has been pegged as a better defender than Jamison, though, and given Jamison’s age, Nicholson could be his replacement. With Tristan Thompson looking to be Cleveland’s starting PF for the future, Nicholson could provide a different style of play off the bench.
The Grizzlies need to add more athleticism in their front court. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are great players, but both play below the rim. Plumlee in 7 feet tall and posted some ridiculous vertical leap numbers and the draft combine. He’s a raw player, but he can be a great energy guy for Memphis.
Drafting Teague, an Indiana native, would give the Pacers flexibility to try to deal Darren Collison. Collison hasn’t produced for the Pacers like he did his one year in New Orleans, but still has trade value. Teague could share the PG spot with George Hill and has the quickness to be a decent player in the league.
Miami won the title, but still needs to majorly upgrade their bench, particularly in the front court. Green could contribute immediately for Miami with his post scoring, passing, outside shot, and rebounding.
Kendrick Perkins hasn’t been a huge difference maker for OKC and at the very least, the Thunder could upgrade their front court depth with this pick. O’Quinn is a solid rebounder and shot blocker and can also contribute offensively (which can’t be said for Perkins), hitting some mid-range shots.
With Rose on the shelf for much of next year, Chicago will need someone to fill the perimeter scoring vacancy. They might address that need in free agency, but Barton could also alleviate the pain. He is a tremendous scorer who has been flying under the radar in the draft process. While he could certainly put on a few pounds (he weighs just 174 lbs. and is 6′-6″), Barton can shoot and is great at driving to the basket. Once Rose returns, he could provide scoring from the SG spot that has been missing since Ben Gordon left.
If Miller falls this far, Golden State would be really excited. SF is the position they need the most help at, and Miller was considered to be a top-10 pick had he returned to Baylor for another year. Miller is still recovering from an ACL injury and didn’t impress scouts with his diminished athleticism. But he is big and can score from anywhere on the court. He could be great value for this pick.