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Sam Smith takes an early look at the 2011 NBA Draft

Bulls.com's Sam Smith provides one very preliminary view of a potential first round. The Cavs, Kings, Wizards and Timberwolves likely will have the best odds to get the No. 1 overall pick. It might be a lot more difficult figuring out who it is.
Kyrie Irving from Duke is Sam Smith's pick to be taken first in the 2011 NBA Draft... for now. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

So what will the NBA executives be doing when the NCAA tournament gets underway this week? Watching, of course. Though you might have thought otherwise with all you’ve heard about how weak this college class is. It’s not that bad.

No, there’s no star, no LeBron or Rose or Blake Griffin or Oden/Durant debate, the kind of thing that makes a draft. Oh, that’s right; we weren’t debating Oden/Durant then. Only now.

This all goes to show you those executives aren’t sure, either.

The problem with the NBA draft is the problem with college basketball. All their best players are in the NBA. So the draft generally falls into three categories:

1. The transcendent star who is obvious to everyone. He comes along rarely, as I’d say there are maybe a dozen players in the entire NBA who deserve a so-called “max” contract, or close. Yes, that’s a big part of what the labor deal is all about. By the way, who are they? Not sure I can get there, but I’d say Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Rose, Durant, Carmelo, Dirk, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams (if he decides to be coached). I’d have said maybe Pierce previously, but he’s too old now. Maybe Ginobili. Maybe Wall in a few years, and just maybe, but a long way from there.

2. The talent who will take a few years, like, say, Derrick Favors. He’s looked lost in New Jersey and now in Utah, but he has the famed upside. That’s generally the top of the draft now, the kids who project with the ceiling, but aren’t anywhere near ready to make an impact.

3. The rotation. That’s what you hope basically from any player out of the top three or four. You just hope for a rotation player who maybe someday can work into a starting role. But given the poor teaching at the pre-level and poor quality of play in college, kids come in more unprepared for the NBA than ever. It takes time to learn for all but the really special ones, like Rose or Durant or Griffin. But drafts these days end to be deeper because the pros strip mine the college game for the rare gems and the rest of the first rounders become potential rotation players even down to the bottom, like the Bulls got with Taj Gibson.

Depending on the level of your scouting, you should get a player who can help in the first round, and it’s the talents at the top of the draft who may take longer to make much of an impact.

Pick any of the recent drafts, and other than a few top players off the top, you’ll likely find as many guys playing who went low first to second than in the middle of the first or even the end of the lottery.

It may be a long way of saying, keep your eyes open. There may be a player for your team. Once players begin to work out after the tournament concludes, views can change dramatically.

So here’s one very preliminary view of a potential first round. The Cavs, Kings, Wizards and Timberwolves likely will have the best odds to get the No. 1 overall pick. It might be a lot more difficult figuring out who it is. The listing is in order of poorest record and not considering who might make the playoffs from the East. Several teams, like the Heat, do not have first round picks and have traded them, but officially it is listed as their pick.

1. Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving, Duke. Help! If they get the pick there probably will be pressure for the local guy, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger. But when there’s a tie you go point. Hard to believe now, but that was a big notion in Rose’s favor because at this time of year—go back and check—the consensus of the draft “experts” was Michael Beasley was No. 1.

2. Kings: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina. He was consensus No. 1 until the season started and then everyone got down on him. Now not because of that 40-point game last weekend, but he can make a shot with a nice stroke, he’ll probably be a two in the pros and they have plenty of young bigs who aren’t ready.

3. Timberwolves: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State. I’d say they’d take s chance on the center, Enes Kanter, but Salinger is closer to helping and it’s getting close to the end for coaching and management to get things going.

4. Wizards: Derrick Williams, Arizona. If anything to give them a reason to get rid of Andray Blatche. A four for the pros, but a worker and they need some serious guys.

5. Raptors: Enes Kanter, Turkey. We always give them the best foreign guy. Had he played at Kentucky, which was laughable to even try and only something Calipari would go for, he might be No. 1. And still may be. But they certainly need an actual center.

6. Nets (going to Jazz): Perry Jones, Baylor. The pros don’t care about stupid, hypocritical NCAA rules.

7. Pistons: Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State. I know. Another perimeter guy? Perhaps this is higher than many teams have him rated, but he’s an all around talent type which Joe Dumars goes for.

8. Clippers: Kemba Walker, Connecticut. Again, maybe a bit high given he’s not that high (tall). But he’s a leader who can play point guard and a cocky, confident guy, the type they need.

9. Bucks: Terrence Jones, Kentucky. Most have him rated higher than here. Versatile, multi-position potential inside player whom scouts mention a need to mature emotionally. Scott Skiles would help.

10. Bobcats: Jimmer Fredette, Brigham Young. Mike and Jimmer? Probably shouldn’t go this high and maybe Jordan gets scared off as he could be the next Adam Morrison. But Jordan also needs a buzz and the kid can make shots. The next Stephen Curry? If his name wasn’t Jimmer, would he get as much notice?

11. Warriors: Donatas Montiejunas, Lithuania. They need size and he’s skilled. I’m not up on the international prospects, but the consensus seems to have him at the top.

12. Pacers: Marcus Morris, Kansas. A versatile front court player who can make a shot and give them an opportunity to finally move on from the impactless Dannny Granger.

13. 76ers: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue. Much higher than generally projected, but Doug Collins did that with Theo Ratliff and scored. A defender with some size and maturity. You want Collins type guys in his program.

14. Rockets: Jonas Valanciunas, Lithuania. They won’t find another Yao, but he’s a big man who draws comparisons to Omer Asik, whom they wanted from the Bulls.

15. Suns: Jan Vesely, Czech Republic. A flashy big man who can do a lot, can be a crowd pleaser and plays hard.

16. Jazz: Alec Burks, Colorado. Probably the best shooting guard prospect in a draft weak at that spot. They’ve needed a two since Hornacek retired.

17. Knicks: Brandon Knight, Kentucky. They’ll look for someone to eventually replace Billups. Knight’s quick with good size and potential.

18. Grizzlies: John Henson, North Carolina. Long and athletic, an intriguing prospect if somewhat skinny. Remains a project for now.

19. Trail Blazers: Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA. Some regard him as the top shooting guard prospect, though he could be more three as his range isn’t great.

20. Hawks: Jordan Hamilton, Texas. Washington gets this pick. Good versatile talent who’ll play hard as they have to improve the situation around John Wall.

21. Hornets: Trey Tompkins, Georgia. Good big man with size and skills, though not a power player. Not David West, but they may be looking for replacements.

22. Nuggets: Markieff Morris, Kansas. The other twin. More the guy to run the court and play hard.

23. Thunder: Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt. They’ve got plenty offense, so a guy who can defend. At this point in the draft you are wishing just for a rotation player at the bottom of your nine or 10.

24. Magic: Jeremy Tyler, San Diego H.S. This pick goes to the Suns. It’s a stretch, as he went overseas and had issues. But there’s talent and it’s an extra pick. Go for high ceiling.

25. Heat. Demetri McCamey, Illinois. The Bulls get this pick. Poor man’s Deron Williams? The Bulls no longer will be into prospects and ceiling, and may like a backup point. He’s a senior with some size from Bellwood.

26. Lakers. Chris Singleton, Florida State. Artest is gonna blow sometime, and he’s a down the road type replacement, a three who’ll defend.

27. Mavs: Nolan Smith, Duke. A more ready to play type. Yes, another guard, but mature and a winning type unselfish.

28. Bulls: William Buford, Ohio State. You don’t fill shooting guard here, but he’s a nice prospect. Though maybe better would be an actual role players like teammate David Lighty, who fits the Bulls current profile as a mature guy who’ll work hard and defend and a version of a younger Keith Bogans.

29. Celtics: Kyle Singler, Duke. You’re not replacing KG down here, but you can replace Scalabrine.

30. Spurs: Tobias Harris, Tennessee. Talented big man who’ll work as they will have to start filling in size with veteran bigs.

Grass isn’t necessarily greener on the financial side

-- In the annual debate of the money being worth it (or not), I thought last week of Joe Johnson and Ben Gordon. Johnson was, I believe, a high priority of the Bulls last summer, and wouldn’t he have looked good at shooting guard now. But before the Bulls could make an offer, Atlanta came with a $126 million deal. The maximum the Bulls could offer was $95 million. And still, I’ve heard, Johnson was hesitant because he’d wanted to play with Rose and with a team with better prospects. But the feeling was he could not reject so much more money. Then you see Johnson here last week looking like he couldn’t care less with a team that’s wildly inconsistent and surely going nowhere.

It is a similar situation with Ben Gordon, who last week lost his starting job with the Pistons after playing 12 minutes and going scoreless against Oklahoma City. Is the extra $10 million worth it? I know it sounds stupid to say it’s not worth it to have an extra $10 million, but what about when you are making $50 million? Is it worth it to play out the rest of your precious career in frustration and with a team that perhaps has no chance to ever be a real contender? Here would be my short list of players who if they had to do it over again would have to reconsider, as the money is green, but the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the financial side.

1. Joe Johnson: Could have been that final piece and veteran leader for a young Bulls team with a bright future. Now he gets to watch Josh Smith shoot crazy, fall away jumpers and complain he was fouled while Al Horford also may be wondering why he took his extension.

2. Ben Gordon: He turned down $50 million from the Bulls. Then he turned down $54 million from the Bulls. Then it was too late. He did get a deal of more than $60 million from the Pistons, but he’s caught in the bizarre world of the NBA of daily changing lineups, a team loaded with shooting guards, being sold in an aging city turning away from its basketball team.

3. Trevor Ariza: He was feeling disrespected the Lakers didn’t offer him more money since he’d done so much for them in their 2009 championship. You mean like when Kobe kept finding you for unguarded jumpers? They aren’t so unguarded in New Orleans, where he is shooting under 30 percent on threes and 38.6 percent overall. Someone did a study recently and decided he’s the worst shooter in NBA history. Nice. He could have still been playing for titles in L.A., though if Ron Artest, the Lakers’ fallback, hadn’t signed with L.A. who knows what would have happened.

4. Jeff Green: The Thunder offered Green a significant contract extension, some reports it being close to $50 million. But he saw it being the third best on his team and balked. So they traded him to Boston. You can be worse places. But the Thunder has a long run with a young core and the Celtics run is being measured in minutes. He’s going to find himself rebuilding in a place that doesn’t deal with that well instead of playing for titles in Oklahoma City.

Nuggets respond to Melo trade with improvement

-- The best response is to win, as the saying goes in sports about trash talkers and dirty players. The Nuggets have been doing that with a quicker, unselfish game since the trade of Carmelo Anthony, though you assume Mavs owner Mark Cuban was just preferring to talk. Said Cuban: "Denver might be better now. The Knicks probably are better, but Denver is much better now." The Knicks continue to play about .500 since trading for Anthony after a brutal home loss to the Pacers, who looked oh so much better without the dysfunctional Danny Granger Sunday night. Granger’s soft, volume shooting game has been a bigger sticking point of late in the Pacers’ slide before Sunday. … Despite speculation all over the place, par for New York’s course, the expectation is Donnie Walsh stays on another season, though New York media now talk of the Anthony deal of owner James Dolan making the trade and not mentioning Walsh. Yes, there’s an adjustment period and the Knicks have generally been better, which didn’t stop the New York Post, even as the Knicks were destroying the Hawks, from a blaring headline wondering of coach Mike D’Antoni was soon to be fired. You know every day D’Antoni regrets more and more passing on the Bulls. … The 76ers have become a reliable shooting team to go with their athleticism and Andre Iguodala settling nicely into that Scottie Pippen point forward/defender role. Former Bulls assistant and longtime Doug Collins mentor John Bach was an advisor to Collins in training camp, and Collins credits Bach for more coaching advise. Said Collins: "I learned that from Johnny Bach a long time ago. He said, 'Don't think you're going to be able to shoot the ball if you don't spend time shooting it.' You can spend all the time you want running plays, but if you can't make shots, that play isn't worth a nickel. So we shoot, we shoot and we shoot some more. We shoot in the areas that we think we're going to get our shots, and we try to take high-percentage shots, and that really helps us." … Doc Rivers’ son, Austin, is going to Duke and was named the Naismith Player of the Year. Not that anyone is guaranteed anything, but everyone since its inception in 1969 has been a first round draft pick and the vast majority lottery or top five selections.

NBA news and notes

-- Clearly the Celtics are in transition with all the injuries and trade of Kendrick Perkins. They had a big win over the Bucks Sunday night to creep a half game ahead of the Bulls in the East, but Jeff Green continues to underwhelm and some coaches who have played Boston feel they are too small to challenge for a title unless Shaq makes a significant contribution upon his return. … Celtics coach Doc Rivers told Boston media he has Gregg Popovich, Nate McMillan and then Tom Thibodeau as his top three for coach of the year. The 76ers have moved up from last season in defending the perimeter from last to second. There’s been a lot of fun at the expense of the Heat with Boston losing and Rivers said no one was crying among various other tweaks around the league, like Phil Jackson delighting in going after his old nemesis Pat Riley, noting if the players have to cry they should do so in the toilet. Stan Van Gundy, who has his own problems after apparently likening commissioner David Stern to a Middle East dictator, offered about how you don’t complain when you celebrated a title before your first practice. Stern sternly said we won’t be hearing from Stan again this season, which is too bad because whether intended or not, he and brother Jeff as coaches always kept you smiling. My guess is Stern probably told Orlando management he cannot fine Van Gundy $70 million, but he can do it to them. Meanwhile, the Heat has come out strong since and with a fairly soft last three weeks if they can survive the next 10 days they seem to have a good shot for the top spot in the East as well. … Phil Jackson joined Rivers, Michael Jordan and even some Heat players, like Chris Bosh, saying Derrick Rose should be the league MVP. … With the Bucks in the midst of the three team race with Charlotte and Indiana (I have Milwaukee) for the last playoff spot, it’s unlikely Michael Redd will get back on the court after multiple knee surgeries. … There were a lot of chuckles around the Association to reports Danny Granger said if he were near Leandro Barbosa when he took a last second shot with the game well decided, he would have decked Barbosa. It is laughable, as Granger so fears contact, he spends all game fading back from the three point line. Granger has shot 370 threes compared with 335 free throws. … By the way, Tyler Hansbrough has been coming on, averaging 19.1 points and 7.6 rebounds this month in eight games and has scored at least 20 in the last four. Which also continues to show, like with Joakim Noah, if you work hard and play relentlessly, you can have a place in the NBA. Yes, you do need some talent too. … Amidst the mess in Detroit, Greg Monroe quietly has emerged as a keeper. He’s averaged 14.6 points and 10.4 rebounds over the last 10 games, no easy task among daily lineup changes. He’s also getting two assists despite virtually nothing being run through him. … After Rodney Stuckey averaged 20.8 points and eight assists through four games, he was replaced as a starter by Tracy McGrady. Then over the weekend provocateur Richard Hamilton was put back in the starting lineup. They called, but I said I was busy and couldn’t start a game. … Classic McGrady. Before playing the Thunder last week, McGrady was asked about Kevin Durant, whom McGrady said reminded him of himself. Younger, of course.

-- It’s another reason they say it’s a business. Upon his return to Charlotte last week with Portland, Gerald Wallace said coach Paul Silas told him before practice he wasn’t being traded. And later that day was traded. … The Hawks finally benched the routinely underachieving Marvin Williams as you get the sense Larry Drew knows he better for his own sake inject some life in that indifferent lineup. … This can’t be uplifting for Magic fans. Gilbert Arenas said he waves his hand in front of his face upon making threes as an inspiration from former teammate DeShawn Stevenson, a career eight point scorer, which seems where Gilbert is headed. Oh, it means, “I’m so hot I can’t feel my face.” For the Magic, that is the definition of “Four more years?”

-- Rick Adelman moved ahead of his mentor and former Bulls coach Dick Motta in career wins and 10th all-time in the NBA. Motta’s early Bulls tams produced as NBA head coaches Adelman, Jerry Sloan, Matt Guokas, Bobby Weiss and Gar Heard Adelman’s contract expires after this season and while he says he hasn’t made any decisions, he is expected to look elsewhere. … Basically since the trading deadline, Courtney Lee is averaging 12.4 points on 52.2 percent shooting now in a regular role in Houston. Said Adelman: “Since we made the trade (of Aaron Brooks), Chase (Budinger) and Courtney have played really well. We’ve had a nice rotation with those two guys and Kevin.”… Luis Scola going out last week with a knee strain ended 311 straight games played, every one in his NBA career. … Is becoming the Grizzlies’ winningest coach the tallest at the little people convention? But I’ve gotten some suggestion not to forget Lionel Hollins in coach of the year consideration as he has had to navigate quite a few crises, like O.J. Mayo’s benching and fight with Tony Allen, Mike Conley getting his deal and Zach Randolph not (and privately saying he’d be upset), O.J. suspension for drugs (hey, a lot does happen with that guy) and getting contributions deep into the bench while Marc Gasol also worries about his contract situation and getting the ball. … Mark Cuban was quoted in the St. Paul Pioneer Press saying the Mavs need a point guard. As for Ricky Rubio, Cuban said, "We're very high on him. If they want to give him up, we're very interested. We would do that in a heartbeat." Tampering? I guess not. … The San Antonio Express noted that after nine seasons and being a pretty good player, the Spurs persuaded Jefferson to change his shot last summer. Not easy for an entrenched veteran. “It was tough, but I bought in,” said Jefferson. “I trusted the coaches, and wanted to do what they needed me to do.” Jefferson shifted his release from above his head to out in front. He now begins his shot from a deeper crouch, his knees bent and permanently prepared to shoot. Jefferson is headed to his best ever three point shooting season and among the top 10 in the league at 43.6 despite a career average less than 36 percent before this season. He’d never shot 40 percent on threes in any season before. … To get some more size, the Spurs have gone to Antonio McDyess starting at center for DeJuan Blair. … Wow, and we were watching history. Kevin Love’s double-double streak was snapped and he finished just about three years short of Wilt Chamberlain. OK, enough? No, record keeping did not begin when ESPN went on the air. … Oklahoma City’s going to have little problem replacing Jeff Green scoring as James Harden has stepped in well averaging 18.3 on 51 percent shooting in March and 17.4 over the last 10 games back through the trading deadline week. … Interesting to see Nate McMillan reup with the Trail Blazers, though perhaps the buzz helped. The talk has been the Lakers were going to turn to him after Phil Jackson retires following this season.

-- Michael Beasley told a Minneapolis TV station his favorite restaurant was McDonald’s. “I order two cheeseburgers, two snack wraps with no sauce, two fish fillets with cheese and light tartar sauce, two large fries, two apple pies and one large milkshake.” Yes, it does sound like an appropriate training table. And the local Fox TV station reported last week Beasley was kicked out of a movie theater. Beasley tweeted it himself. The station quoted a patron, Drew Malcom, saying Beasley’s group ruined the movie Adjustment Bureau for them. “At the time, they were just people being really, hideously obnoxious in a theater,” she said. She claimed Beasley was with three teammates, who were not named. “They started pulling up people on Facebook and talking about these people on Facebook and tossing things to each other -- and just talking really un-witty commentary during the film,” she said. “So, it was an hour and a half of obnoxious behavior and commentary.”

About 15 minutes before the movie ended, Beasley and his teammates were thrown out. “At one point, as the bouncer was urging them out, one of them said something along the lines of, ‘Do you know who we are?’ because the bouncer said, ‘I don’t care if you’re professional athletes. You're ruining the movie for everybody,’” Malcom said. Malcom said the ousted players did not seem apologetic while being escorted out: “I still don’t know what happened during ‘The Adjustment Bureau.’” She did say the theater gave her free passes as an apology.

And, yes, many in Chicago were urging the Bulls to go for the big guy over Derrick Rose in that draft.

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