Sam Smith's 2011 NBA Draft analysis
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With the No. 1 pick in Thursday's NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers... aren't quite sure yet.
Which is what happens when you have an NBA draft lacking great star talent. The general consensus is it's a decent draft, though without many great impact players. So you may find the best players coming after the top two or three, like in 2005 when Deron Williams and Chris Paul followed Marvin Williams.
So then it comes down to intrigue, and there is plenty of interesting feints, fakes and fear of failure going on among the top teams in this draft.
When the Cavs moved up to No. 1 with the pick they got from the Clippers on the Baron Davis deal, it was widely assumed they'd take Duke point guard Kyrie Irving. There, however, seems to have been an internal split in the organization about whether to take Irving, Arizona's Derrick Williams or Turkish center Enes Kanter, the latter returning for another visit Monday.
Cleveland likes Kanter, a prospect for now who could be a legitimate center, to go along with returning-from-injury Anderson Varejao. But the Cavs were figuring they could get Kanter at No. 4 with their own pick.
Though that is in question as the Jazz, mostly expected to take a point guard, is now rumored to be interested in Kanter to go with Derrick Favors in building a big man core.
The Jazz is rumored to be making Paul Millsap available. But they also are said to be holding open the possibility of moving Al Jefferson in a larger deal if they can get Kanter, a deal that could net them a shooting guard, like Monta Ellis or Kevin Martin with Golden State at No. 11 and Houston No. 14. So then Utah would go big.
That would mean Williams and Kanter off the board with the next best player, Brandon Knight, a point guard.
Some executives around the league, meanwhile, feel the Cavs may have gotten cold feet given some of Irving's injury issues. So there's some thinking now they can take Williams, who many around the NBA see as a future 20-point scorer and All-Star, and get their point guard at No. 4, either Irving if he falls or Kentucky's Knight, ranked close to Irving in ability.
So the thinking in Cleveland goes they take Williams. Then Minnesota isn't taking a point guard given that's all they've taken and have Ricky Rubio coming and have built the organization's future on Rubio. Then Minnesota takes Kanter and Utah is left to choose a point and one then falls to the Cavs. Although there are also rumors the Timberwolves prefer Jan Vesely, the versatile Czech forward. One personnel director told me he believes Vesely and Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas will be the best players from this draft. Which also tells you about the uncertain level of NBA talent at the top of the draft.
Then Utah could get Irving and Cleveland still gets a point. Or if Utah goes for Kanter, Cleveland gets its dream draft of Williams and Irving.
Minnesota likes the idea of international players to help ease Rubio's transition since they are viewing him as something of a franchise savior. Also, they may not know what Minnesota is like compared to Miami, though that's just my hunch.
This also is where the gamesmanship continues.
Minnesota would like to trade the pick since they have Kevin Love at power forward and Darko Milicic (I know) at center on a long term deal. Tony Ronzone, who pushed the Pistons to take Darko in 2003, is now Timberwolves personnel director and a big Darko advocate. The Timberwolves most would like to have Williams and then trade Michael Beasley. Perhaps to Charlotte, which needs scoring after trading Gerald Wallace, for the No. 9 pick.
But if Cleveland takes Williams, Minnesota supposedly will try to trade the No. 2 pick to a team that likes Kanter. So far, Washington and Houston have been interested and Utah could try to swap picks, though that still leaves point guard for Minnesota.
The Wizards have Nos. 6 and 18. They'd probably like to trade Andray Blatche, though Minnesota likes Anthony Randolph and wants to give him a shot. Actually, many around the NBA say the Wizards should trade everyone and start over with John Wall and Rashard Lewis and be done with its erratic talent collection that has caused Wall to regress. Washington is saying it won't give up JaVale McGee. So perhaps Nick Young in a sign and trade as Minnesota needs someone for Rubio to throw the ball to since Rubio doesn't (can't?) shoot. Maybe Houston will move Courtney Lee or Kevin Martin as they are looking desperately for size.
Maybe given Rubio's Spanish nationality and age the Timberwolves trade with Toronto, which also is interested in Kanter given its lack of size, and get Jose Calderon as a mentor for the young Spaniard. Minnesota is looking to deal Jonny Flynn.
So basically it's a top four draft with Williams, Irving, Kanter and Knight expected to be in the top four in some order.
Unless someone takes Vesely or Valanciunas.
Draft talk, continued
So then it gets to Toronto, though I can see a deal possibility here. I will say I have not heard any talk about it. But there should be. The Suns are basically heading for a mess with an old team. They're said to have interest in Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette with their draft pick. It's hard to see him going before No. 13 unless Charlotte takes a flyer. Now is probably the last chance to trade Steve Nash, who is saying he wants to play three more seasons. A Nash return to native Canada would be huge in Toronto and a good transition to bring along their young talent. Maybe the Suns can get Andrea Bargnani, who would be a nice fit for their style and to play with Marcin Gortat. The Suns could add a piece like Channing Frye. Although he's said he likes Phoenix, Grant Hill is a free agent and long has had a good relationship with the Bulls. He makes the kind of modest salary the Bulls might be able to handle in free agency given changes that are expected. Hill talked seriously about coming to Chicago in 2000 before signing with Orlando. His family remains close with Bulls managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf. Although Hill isn't the ideal long distance shooter, he, theoretically, could split wing positions with Luol Deng and give the Bulls a stronger scoring look at shooting guard/small forward. So for the Suns it might be the ideal time to finally split from Nash since they missed the playoffs and for Toronto to bring in a popular, veteran presence. Nash's name has come up in connection with the Heat, but most observers feel his defensive weaknesses would make that unlikely. The Knicks also are interested in Nash, but they have little to offer.
If Toronto does hang onto its pick, perhaps Connecticut's Kemba Walker as they might want to try that uptempo game with DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis. Would they go for still another European in Valanciunas, who is projected to be a top big man, though he's 19? The NBA is changing and although Bryan Colangelo got an extension, he'll probably be on the clock. Young big men take awhile — right, Tyson Chandler? — and the league now is more about immediate results. So I can see some of the young big men sliding.
If Walker goes to Toronto, I take Kawhi Leonard or Marcus Morris if I'm Washington. Solid guy. You have to start building some stability there divorced from the many questionable characters who have populated that roster. The big mistake teams make in the draft is they bet on athletic talent. Sure, you can hit big. But more often you flop, especially when they are so young. I see Leonard and Morris as two of the more stable prospects in the lottery. Maybe they never become All-Stars. But they'll be part of your core for a decade. That's how you build a team.
The Kings at No. 7 also need stability and I'd choose between Morris and Leonard. I might also take a shot at European Vesely, who is regarded as a serious, hard playing, hard worker. With DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans they need someone like that. They could also use a point to put Evans off the ball and perhaps Walker if he is there.
The Pistons need size, though the interesting guy who seems to be moving up among personnel observers is Texas freshman Tristan Thompson. He's a scorer and a worker. Perhaps Washington, although I'd be wary of a freshman. Perhaps to Charlotte at No. 9. Maybe the Pistons go Valanciunas or even Bismack Biyombo, who is most compared with Ben Wallace for defense and alone-in-the-gym-can't-score offense.
At No. 10, I can see the Bucks going for the best shooter. They need scoring and you can't count on a Michael Redd return. Probably Klay Thompson over Alex Burks. Maybe the Warriors at No. 12 go for Burks and do trade Ellis for a big man.
The Jazz at No. 12 will have pressure to take local favorite Jimmer, which is like the Pacers draft when they took Reggie Miller and the state wanted local hero Steve Alford. The Pacers did OK. Fredette is not a stretch there as Alford would have been. It probably depends on whether the Jazz used that No. 3 on a point guard. Fredette is a terrific shooter, but really projects as a backup. Utah also needs a shooting guard if Thompson or Burks got through. You can probably throw another shooter in that mix, Texas' Jordan Hamilton as well as Providence's Marshon Brooks.
Houston ends the lottery, and if they haven't been able to move up, maybe they take the third European big man, Donatas Montiejunas, who has been projected as a lottery pick but could slip into the 20's because of uncertainties about his game.
The Pacers have been linked to Jimmer, who most sounds from Hoosiers, and probably would want one of the shooting guards if they drop. They could go for a bigger point like Michigan's Darius Morris.
You assume the Pacers, who almost had a draft day deal, will make another run at O.J. Mayo, and I assume the Bulls are among several others that will, too. The problem without knowing the new labor rules is Mayo is coming up for an extension and it could turn into a one year rental. So how much can you give up? Memphis doesn't have a first, though last year's first, Xavier Henry, didn't play much being hurt.
Building through the draft
The problem with the draft, or, more precisely, many teams' scouting, is they do it in a pack. So what happens come draft time is almost all the teams have similar draft boards with players slotted in similar spots. Then executives often worry that if they have, say, No. 15., and pick someone everyone has listed at No. 25, they'll be criticized on TV and in anonymous quotes by fellow GMs and fans will decide they were a draft loser. That makes for a long summer with no games. And maybe even a longer one this year. But the only real draft losers are the teams that view the draft this way.
The draft should be about building your team and if you don't have the courage of your convictions to pick someone who fits your team no matter what everyone says, you shouldn't have the job. You do often get to keep the job longer if you pick the "safe," guy, meaning the one everyone had there. Then you can tell your owner when he fails that everyone else would have done the same. There probably aren't two owners who have seen any of these guys play. So if I'm the Pacers and I want a big point maybe I go deeper into the first round for someone like Iman Shumpert. Maybe someone like Duke's Nolan Smith, who ran the team while everyone wanted for Irving, and did a pretty nice job. Take a chance, fellas.
Looking for late round talent
The 76ers need size, and there's also a question about small forward if they trade Andre Iguodala in that recently rumored Monta Ellis deal. Though they could make Evan Turner a point forward type. Doug Collins likes solid guys, so maybe the second Morris twin, Markieff, though he's more four. Brooks, the Providence shooting guard, has been moving up, though he's more slasher. Collins isn't the final decision maker, as he was with the Pistons, but he has a terrific eye for talent. He was the driving force behind the selection of Horace Grant. And when he ran the Pistons, his pick of Theo Ratliff at No. 18 was much maligned as too high. But Ratliff went on to play 17 years. So I could see the 76ers perhaps taking a shot at an unheralded big man, like Richmond's Justin Harper.
What happens when you get to this point in this kind of draft is you are looking at risks, potential high ceiling guys with talents who may not be mature or fit. It's the James Johnson/Earl Clark/Terrence Williams range.
Teams often are afraid to pass on these players because they have so called star potential, though most usually fail. The reason is teams don't have the time or ability to be patient with development of these players. My view is once you get past the lottery you are better off going for someone who'll be a one dimensional role player who can fit your team, the Taj Gibson model. He doesn't have a high ceiling, but he can do something for you.
The question marks coming in this range include Chris Singleton, who is actually better than that and a defender and worker who doesn't exactly fit that profile, Tobias Harris, Tyler Honeycutt, Trey Tompkins and Jeremy Tyler.
Tyler intrigues me, though teams are scared of him because he left high school after his junior year and was a disaster playing in Israel and last season a bit better in Japan when he played for former NBA coach Bob Hill. He's an athletic seven footer projected anywhere in the 20's or 30's. If he makes the top of the second round you take him because there is no guarantee.
But I can see veteran teams without athletic talent and on the downward slide, like Boston and San Antonio, taking a shot. They just work with him for a year or two and see if they have anything. After all, what are they getting at No. 25 or No. 29 that will help them compete for a title for another year or two?
Once you get into the 20's, it becomes more in the eye of the beholder selection. The players usually lack something substantial, though it's not as bad as one coach in that range told me whose team has seen some two dozen prospects: "Either they're too small or too slow or can't defend or can't shoot." Which also doesn't mean they can't play in the NBA. You generally can get a good specialist in the 20's, like the Bulls did with Gibson, who is a good defensive player without much offensive potential.
It is tough to get starters when you are picking so low in the first round, though there are guys who slip through to the second round because they were viewed as one dimensional or otherwise uncertain: Michael Redd, Kyle Korver, Matt Barnes, Bobby Simmons, Gilbert Arenas, Carl Landry, Glen Davis, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Anderson Varejao, Richard Lewis, Monta Ellis.
So then you think about guys like Kenneth Faried, Nikola Vucevic, Reggie Jackson, JaJuan Johnson, Norris Cole, Charles Jenkins, Shelvin Mack, Josh Selby and Chandler Parsons. And then wonder if someone else was better.
Coming to Bulls.com Tuesday: Who the Bulls will select. Or maybe should or could.
NBA news and notes
-- At least no one will say the Bulls staff isn't working this offseason. In addition to having dozens of draft prospects in for workouts in the last fewe weeks, the team had a free agent camp this weekend. It mostly involved D-league players, guards like Donald Sloan of Texas A&M, Chris Kramer of Purdue and Matt Janning of Northeastern. Some former NBA players were also involved, like former Bull Ronald DuPree and former Nets No. 1 pick Sean Williams. Former first rounder Antoine Wright had been scheduled, but did not come. It's considered more additional inventory than someone who'll be part of next season's roster.
-- The Suns have long been expected to buy out Vince Carter's $18.3 million final season for $4 million. Which could give Carter the chance to answer the question of whether he ever really wanted to try to be a winner. Or just score points. The Bulls will be one of the teams likely interested in Carter if he is bought out — similarly with Richard Hamilton, who is less likely to be bought out because he has two years left on his contract. The Bulls will be over the salary cap, so they cannot offer Carter more than a minimum deal. Currently, there is a mid level exception, which most don't expect to survive the new collective bargaining agreement. So would Carter come to the Bulls for a minimum when he can make much more, though with a lesser team? The advantage the Bulls have is they can offer a starting job. Of course, Dallas likely could, as well, on a minimum deal. The Heat could not. Would Carter like to play in New York with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire for the same minimum and probably start there as well? Or just collect as much money as he can and maybe go play somewhere like Denver or the Clippers? He'll have some interesting decisions to make.
-- Some great stuff on that Letterman Top 10 list read by Mavs players with injured Caron Butler reading: "No. 4. Why didn't anyone tell me we won?" And owner Mark Cuban reading, "No. 2. If you thought I was cocky and obnoxious before-Get ready." It was why a lot of his partners were rooting for Miami, perhaps the few in the U.S. Though give Cuban credit for his muted response in the playoffs in looking like an actual owner instead of trying to upstage his players, and for having original owner Donald Carter accept the championship trophy from commissioner David Stern. Which, I assume, also pleased Stern.