The NBAge of Enlightentment

Jun 26 2009 4:23PM

By Darryl Howerton #21

When I evaluate NBA prospects, I find it most insightful to break them down by birth year.

I’m always updating—what I like to call—my NBAge Rankings (see sidebar box), making sure I always include the best NBA players, collegians, high school and international players for their given birth year.

When you group them as such, you have a better picture of seeing how they should develop in the future. My old theory is that I’d rather have the second-best 18 year old in a draft than have, say, the 23rd-best 23 year old.

I know the 23-year-old is a better player today, but in the long run, that 18-year-old is going to prove to be the much better pick.

Such a mistake was made last night when the Indiana Pacers selected Tyler Hansbrough with the 13th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft, while Jrue Holiday did not go until four selections later with the 17th pick to the Philadelphia 76ers.

And it wasn’t just the Pacers that made that mistake. Holiday should really have gone with a top 3 or 4 pick in my book. On average, every draft has two multiple All-NBA players. So if you rank in the top two in your age bracket, there’s a good possibility you’re going to be a perennial All-Star.

So unless you picked Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio or Hasheem Thabeet—rookies who all rank in the top two of their age categories—you made a mistake in not taking Holiday.

That’s just how the draft works. Typically speaking, every age group has two stars, five perennial starters (who will average 30-plus minutes per game), 18 key role players (who average 24-plus minutes per game) and 50-or-so NBA players in general.

So if I look at my trusty NBAge Rankings, I have a fairly good idea who may develop into stars; who could be starters; who could be good fourth, fifth and sixth men; who could fill out an NBA roster.

So with that said, here is my evaluation on what went down last night.

BEST PICK: RICKY RUBIO (MINNESOTA) Minnesota’s David Kahn took advantage of mistakes made by Memphis’ Chris Wallace, Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti and Sacramento’s Geoff Petrie when they bypassed Ricky Rubio for older players who better fit their needs. I know Rubio made it known that he didn’t want to play in Memphis or Sacramento, but that didn’t stop Minnesota from drafting the Spaniard point guard when he didn’t want to play there either, telling folks that Oklahoma City was his destination of choice. Rookie GM Kahn simply stood firm and made the gutsy call that he was going to go down picking the best player available, no matter what. And anyone who saw a 17-year-old Rubio consistently hold his own against Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd in Summer Olympic games knows that Rubio was the best player in the entire draft. The only reason I’m not faulting Mike Dunleavy and the Clippers here is because they too got a perennial All-Star in Blake Griffin.

STEAL OF THE DRAFT: JRUE HOLIDAY (PHILADELPHIA) I would have taken Holiday third in the draft. That’s how much I thought of the tough UCLA point guard. He played head-to-head with all the older point guards that went first round in this draft, and did so as an 18-year-old. Now having just turned 19 two weeks ago, he’s going to be the steal of the 2009 draft, something I said about another 18-year-old last year who dropped to the 14th pick in the 2008 draft, Anthony Randolph. Just because the NBA forbids teams from drafting high school players, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the few 18-year-olds who graduated early and slipped through the cracks.

SECOND-ROUND STEALS: PATRICK MILLS (PORTLAND), SERGIO LLULL (HOUSTON) & DEJUAN BLAIR (SAN ANTONIO) It figures Rockets GM Daryl Morey would get the most efficient international player in the game with a second-round pick at No. 34. Sergio Llull is not only an athletic point guard, but he has the wherewithal with his court savvy to become a special player. Now armed with some heavy depth thanks to some smart buying of good second-round bargains—that turned into Llull, Chase Budinger and Jermaine Taylor—it’s just a matter of time before Morey lands the big blockbuster trade involving Tracy McGrady and his roster full of NBA talent. Speaking of talent abundance, the Spurs got a key big-man rebounder-defender in DeJuan Blair that just proves the smart get richer. I had Blair ranked as the 13th-best player born in 1989. And this second-round, 37th pick obviously rated high with Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford as well. But the real theft of this entire draft came at pick No. 55 when Portland’s Kevin Pritchard got speedy point guard Patty Mills, who immediately becomes the blazingest Blazer in franchise history. Not only is Mills in the Top 10 in his age group, but he’s every bit as good as most of the five point guards taken with Top 10 picks.

TEAMS THAT GOT A LOT BETTER THIS WEEK Since long-range prosperity is a different animal, I’ll narrow this to the teams that improved the most this week, based solely on how much better they’ll become on the basketball court for the '09-10 season alone.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: If Shaquille O’Neal is able to play All-Star ball for 30 minutes per game again, the Cavs have a shot at 70 wins.

2. San Antonio Spurs: using future salary-cap space to acquire former All-Star Richard Jefferson for backups was a great deal. But adding Blair, who may prove to be a key 20-25 mpg player, with a second-round pick is priceless.

3. Orlando Magic: Vince Carter is an upgrade over Hedo Turkoglu, but what most don’t realize is that fellow acquisition Ryan Anderson is the 11th best player from 1988 (check the chart), and the 21-year-old outside-shooting power forward is the equivalent to a Top 10 pick in this 2009 draft

4. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin will be a good player in 2009-10 and allows L.A. to dump some big-man salary now.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: The T-Wolves have more bigs than they know what to do with, but they may have had the worst backcourt in NBA history, that is, until they upgraded with first-round guards Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Wayne Ellington.

TEAMS THAT HAD A BAD WEEK 1. Phoenix Suns: It sounds like the Phoenix fire sale has begun, with Shaquille O’Neal being the first salary dump, Amar’e Stoudemire becoming the second and Steve Nash surely wondering what has become of this place.

2. New Jersey Nets: Looks like Jay-Z and Brooklyn have cleared out Vince Carter and the necessary cap space for the free-agent Summer of 2010, where the Nets have placed themselves in good position to land a top pick as well (Derrick Favors? John Wall? Ed Davis?).

3. Indiana Pacers: My heart hopes I’m wrong, but my brain says there were 13 other players that would have helped the Pacers more than Hansbrough, who regardless will bolster a soft Pacer bench.

4. Milwaukee Bucks: Business-wise and future-wise Milwaukee improved, but prospects for the ’09-10 season indeed got worse when the 34-win team with no first-round pick, lost Richard Jefferson and essentially acquired 37-year-old Kurt Thomas and still-developing Amir Johnson in return.

5. Washington Wizards: Technically speaking, the 19-win Wizards will greatly improve in the ’09-10 win column thanks to the return of Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. But by trading pick No. 5—which team sources say would have been Rubio—for veterans Mike Miller and Randy Foye, the franchise now pays out at least $15 million in additional salary and luxury-tax penalties for high-priced vets who don’t have the upside of Rubio.

NBAGE RANKINGS

BIRTH YEAR: 1985

  POS. PLAYER TEAM BIRTHDATE
1. C Dwight Howard Orlando 12/8/85
2. PG Chris Paul New Orleans 5/6/85
3. C Al Jefferson Minnesota 1/4/85
4. PF LaMarcus Aldridge Portland 7/19/85
5. SF Luol Deng Chicago 4/16/85
6. PF Josh Smith Atlanta 12/5/85
7. PF Paul Millsap Utah 2/10/85
8. PF Joakim oah

Chicago

2/25/85
9. SG Monta Ellis Golden State 10/26/85
10. C Tiago Splitter San Antonio 1/1/85
11. SF Trevor Ariza L.A. Lakers 6/30/85
12. PF Brandon Bass Dallas 4/30/85
13. PG Aaron Brooks Houston 1/14/85
14. C Marc Gasol Memphis 1/29/85
15. SG Rudy Fernandex Portland 4/4/85
16. SG Ronnie Brewer Utah 3/20/85
17. SG J.R. Smith Denver 9/9/85
18. SG Anthony Morrow Golden State 9/27/85
19. C Andrea Bargnani Toronto 10/26/85
20. SG Courtney Lee Orlando 10/3/85

BIRTH YEAR: 1986

  POS. PLAYER TEAM BIRTHDATE
1. PG Rajon Rondo Boston 2/22/86
2. C Andris Beidrins Golden State 4/2/86
3. C Al Horford Atlanta 6/3/86
4. SF Marvin Williams Atlanta 6/19/86
5. PG Ramon Sessions Milwaukee 4/11/86
6. PG Kyle Lowry Houston 3/25/86
7. PF Jason Thompson Sacramento 7/21/86
8. SF Rudy Gay Memphis 8/17/86
9. PF Jeff Green Oklahoma City 8/28/86
10. SF Luc Mbah a Moute Milwaukee 9/9/86
11. SG Louis Williams Philadelphia 10/27/86
12. PG Rodney Stuckey Detroit 4/21/86
13. PF Andray Blatche Washington 8/22/86
14. PF Tyrus Thomas Chicago 8/17/86
15. PG Jordan Farmar L.A. Lakers 11/30/86
16. PG Mario Chalmers Miami 5/19/86
17. SF Martell Webster Portland 12/4/86
18 PF Glen Davis Boston 1/1/86
19. PG George Hill San Antonio 5/4/86
20. PF Ian Mahinmi San Antonio 11/5/86

BIRTH YEAR: 1987

  POS. PLAYER TEAM BIRTHDATE
1. C Andrew Bynum L.A. Lakers 10/27/87
2. C Hasheem Thabeet Memphis 2/16/87
3. PF Amir Johnson Milwaukee 5/1/87
4. PF Brandan Wright Golden State 10/5/87
5. PG Mike Conley Memphis 10/11/87
6. SG O.J. Mayo Memphis 11/5/87
7. PG D.J. Augustin Charlotte 11/10/87
8. PF Marreese Speights Philadelphia 8/4/87
9. PF Jordan Hill New York 7/27/87
10. PG Sergio Llull Houston 11/15/87
11. PG Ty Lawson Denver 11/3/87
12. SG Chris Douglas-Roberts New Jersey 1/8/87
13. SF Julian Wright New Orleans 5/20/87
14. SG C.J. Miles Utah 4/18/87
15. SG Gerald Henderson Charlotte 12/9/87
16. PG Eric Maynor Utah 6/11/87
17. PF James Johnson Chicago 2/20/87
18. SF Wilson Chandler New York 5/10/87
19. SG Terrence Williams New Jersey 6/18/87
20. SG Daequan Cook Miami 4/28/87

BIRTH YEAR: 1988

  POS. PLAYER TEAM BIRTHDATE
1. SF Kevin Durant Oklahoma City 9/29/88
2. C Greg Oden Portland 1/22/88
3. SF Thaddeus Young Philadelphia 6/21/88
4. C Brook Lopez New Jersey 4/1/88
5. PG Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City 11/12/88
6. PF Kevin Love Minnesota 9/7/88
7. PG Derrick Rose Chicago 10/4/88
8. SG Eric Gordon L.A. Clippers 12/25/88
9. PG Stephen Curry Golden State 3/14/88
10. PG Patrick Mills Portland 8/11/88
11. PF Ryan Anderson Orlando 5/6/88
12. C Spencer Hawes Sacramento 4/18/88
13. SF Danilo Gallinari New York 8/8/88
14. PG Jerryd Bayless Portland 8/20/88
15. C DeAndre Jordan L.A. Clippers 7/21/88
16. SF Earl Clark Phoenix 1/17/88
17. SF Austin Daye Detroit 6/5/88
18. C Javale McGee Washington 1/19/88
19. PG Jeff Teague Atlanta 6/10/88
20. C Robin Lopez Phoenix 4/1/88

BIRTH YEAR: 1989

  POS. PLAYER TEAM BIRTHDATE
1. PF Blake Griffin L.A. Clippers 3/16/89
2. PF Anthony Randolph Golden State 7/15/89
3. PF Michael Beasley Miami 1/9/89
4. PG Tyreke Evans Sacramento 9/19/89
5. SG James Harden Oklahoma City 8/16/89
6. PG Brandon Jennings Milwaukee 9/23/89
7. SG DeMar DeRozan Toronto 8/7/89
8. PG Jonny Flynn Minnesota 2/6/89
9. C Kosta Koufos Utah 2/24/89
10. PF DeJuan Blair San Antonio 4/22/89
11. PF Serge Ibaka Oklahoma City 9/18/89
12. C B.J. Mullens Oklahoma City 2/14/89
13. PG Nick Calathes Dallas 2/7/89

BIRTH YEAR: 1990

  POS. PLAYER TEAM BIRTHDATE
1. PG Ricky Rubio Minnesota 10/21/90
2. PG Jrue Holiday Philadelphia 6/12/90