Posted Jun 20 2010 11:24AM
We can be certain of one thing going into this year's Draft.
The Minnesota Timberwolves will not be taking a point guard.
Last year, as you recall, the Wolves controlled the first round of the draft after acquiring the Wizards' fifth overall selection to go with their own sixth pick. And they stunned everyone by going point-point with their successive picks, taking Spanish wunderkind Ricky Rubio fifth and Syracuse's Jonny Flynn sixth. (They then took Ty Lawson with their third first-rounder, though that was part of a pre-arranged deal with Denver.) Minnesota took Rubio knowing that he would likely not come over to the NBA from Europe for at least a year. (As it turned out, it will be two after Rubio's new deal with his new team, FC Barcelona, which allows for a reasonable NBA buyout for the 2011-12 season).
The Wolves had three more firsts this year -- fourth overall, 16th and 23rd, and while anything is possible, a team that finished next to last in the league in points allowed, 26th in opponents' rebounds allowed and 20th in points per game, and coming off of a 15-67 campaign, has other needs it may want to address before taking yet another floor general.
But that's the beauty of any draft. It only takes one team to think an undergrad or an international prospect is the answer to their prayers, and the whole apple cart of expectations is upset.
And thus comes the annual Big Board, with the top 10 prospects at each position (the explanation for the rankings is below). During the past several months, I've spoken to more than three dozen college and pro coaches, NBA college scouts and player personnel directors and team executives about their likes and dislikes, the players that are coming on and those that have fallen off as the Draft nears. In exchange for their candor, they've been granted anonymity.
This is not a mock draft. In case this is your first time, I don't do mocks. They're a complete waste of your time and mine, and I value my time. There's no point in trying to guess what people who are (usually) not telling you the truth about their intentions are going to do. Trades develop very quickly in the week before the Draft, and many of the deals that teams have been working on in secret don't usually get out, much to my dismay. (But I'll keep trying. Promise.)
However, it's pretty safe to surmise that the Washington Wizards, barring meteor attack from an alien species determined to take over the earth for our water/oil/people -- I can't keep the various Mars Attacks plots straight -- will take Kentucky point guard John Wall with the first overall pick, and Wall leads the list of point guard prospects that will start going next Thursday at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden.
Last year, several teams fixed their point guard problems with one of the deepest classes in recent memory. Sacramento got Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, who just beat out another point, Golden State's Stephen Curry, for the award. Milwaukee found a diamond growing overseas in Brandon Jennings, and Lawson provided a capable backup for Chauncey Billups in Denver. Rod Beaubois was an injection of speed in Dallas, and Darren Collison provided an unexpected boost in New Orleans for an injured Chris Paul. The Sixers are thrilled with Jrue Holliday's potential, and the Hawks plan to work Jeff Teague in more this season.
This year's point guard crop is not nearly as promising -- at least not after Wall.
With his blinding speed with the ball, and familiarity with the "dribble-drive" offense of Calipari's that is slowly gaining ground in the NBA, Wall is tailor made for the pros, with their prohibitions against handchecking and dislodging ballhandlers now fully in place. There are better passers to be sure, but no one in this Draft or few others is as fast as Wall from one end of the court to the other.
"He's got God-given speed and quickness," said a college head coach whose team played Wall's Wildcats last season. "He does that on every level. He did it in high school. He's just got that gift. Anywhere that's rewarded, he's a prime candidate. The kid has (guts). How many big game winning shots did he make? He has that 'it' quality. He's going to have success at the next level."
There is not unanimous accord among NBA personnel types that Wall is the better player over Ohio State guard Evan Turner, who won just about every award in college basketball last year in leading Ohio State to the Sweet 16. But unless a meteor hits between now and Thursday, though, the Wizards will begin their rebuilding program in earnest by taking Wall, who was initially cut from his high school team in North Carolina (sound familiar?) because of his terrible attitude.
But Wall turned himself around, with the help of his mother, Frances Pulley, who told him he had to let go of the anger that he'd held for years following the death of his father when he was nine years old. By the time he was a rising senior in high school, his body and his game got in sync, and he became a top prospect, the jewel in new Kentucky coach John Calipari's collection of all-Americans. (All five of the freshmen that Calipari brought to Lexington -- Wall, guard Eric Bledsoe, centers DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton, and forward Patrick Patterson -- are in the Draft, and all should be taken in the first round.
Wall will go first, to a Wizards team starting over again after Gilbert Arenas' 50-game suspension, the trades of Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood, and the death of longtime owner Abe Pollin last December. New owner Ted Leonsis hasn't made it official, but there is unanimity in Washington that Wall is the guy, and that he and Arenas can play in the backcourt together.
"I'm a competitive person," Wall said during the Chicago pre-Draft camp in May. "I want to win. I'm not selfish. I'm trying to help any organization. Teams like that, that got the number one picks, number two picks, had a losing record last year. I'm trying to make the organization change and make them into a winning program."
And at 6-foot-4, with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, more than a few personnel types think Wall could eventually have a defensive impact on the game like a Gary Payton.
"When he puts his mind to it, because he really hasn't put his mind to it yet, when he really gets after guys he's going to cause as many problems at that end as he does at the offensive end," said the college coach that played Kentucky last year. "He hasn't even tapped into that yet. I think the upside is so good for him, even up there."
Bledsoe, who led his high school team to the Alabama state finals, would have had the ball in his hands at just about any other college in the country. But Calipari somehow convinced him it would be good for him to play off the ball at Kentucky, alongside Wall, and would help boost his pro prospects as well.
"He told me it wasn't going to be easy," Bledsoe recalled during the Chicago pre-Draft camp. "It ain't been easy my whole life. So I kind of took it as a challenge. I kind of seen John a lot, probably watched him a couple of times. And I knew he was unselfish. So me going there, and John, I always had the feeling that he was just going to win a national championship. And I wanted to do the same. If I would have went somewhere else, it probably just would have been me playing (point). And you get exhausted trying to play by yourself."
But there is disagreement as to whether Bledsoe will ultimately be able to play point guard in the NBA.
"I didn't see it as a freshman coming out," said another college coach whose team played Kentucky last season. "He didn't handle the ball well. Didn't shoot it well. Kind of shoots it funny. He can push it. The thing they did at Kentucky was he and Wall were really good at getting the rebound and pushing and creating at the other end. I think (Bledsoe's) got to be a one. He's definitely not a two. But he didn't handle it enough for him to say what he was. Our concern was keeping him out of transition. Especially. him. We wanted to keep him out of transition. We thought Wall could hurt us in the halfcourt. We didn't think Bledsoe could hurt us in the halfcourt."
Said a Pacific Division scout: "In the short term, he could be a pretty good backup point. If you have a big guard who dominates the ball he could play off the ball and then guard the points. He's not as good as Lou Williams (the 76ers' guard) but he has that kind of speed and quickness."
The uncertainty about Bledsoe's position has some teams more enamored with Johnson, even though he too is making a transition from being a scoring guard who handled the ball in college to a point guard in the pros. The junior guard from Nevada -- who played alongside another top pro prospect, forward Luke Babbitt, last season -- is more likely to go late in the first round or early in the second, but even some who have worked with Johnson in the past couple of years believe he's more likely to be a scoring point in the NBA than a Nash-like distributor. But Johnson can score. He can get his shot off and in small spaces.
Mississippi's White is another converted two guard who became SEC Freshman of the Year in 2009 and has the size, hands and jumping ability -- he posted the highest verticle leap at the Chicago camp -- to play at the next level.
"I was impressed with his knowledge of the game," said a college head coach that played against Mississippi last season. "Trying to beat him, trying to take some things away, I thought he played well within himself. He didn't shoot it well but I thought he made a lot of basketball plays. He played with a speed and an intensity that you have to play with if you're going to be successful in the league. They look for something you can walk in right away ... I think he can win games with his shooting, but even if his shot is not going he's a good enough basketball player that he can be effective for you doing other things."
Vasquez, the ACC Player of the Year last season for Maryland, has come on with a series of good workouts in the last month, and now may be a top 20 pick after a strong senior season.
"He's got a chance to play in our league," said a Central Division scouting chief. "I didn't think so. He's tough, I'll give him that. I changed my mind a little on him. He gets under your skin. He doesn't do it with any polish. Whatever he does doesn't look smooth. At the end of the day, the end result is always pretty impressive."
Vasquez, who left the Chicago combine early to attend graduation at Maryland, put his name into the Draft last season but pulled out when he couldn't get a first-round guarantee. Going back for his senior season paid off. Everything improved in his final year at College Park, from shooting to scoring to his leadership.
"I'm going to earn everything I get in the NBA," he said after a recent workout. "Maybe being the guy that comes to practice to get guys better, or whether I back up somebody playing at the point guard position or the two guard. I know my role. It's not like I have an ego and I have to be the superstar like I was at Maryland. It's about winning, and I want to win."
Collins helped Kansas win the national championship in 2009 and was a leader for the top-ranked Jayhawks this past season. But he has some explaining to do about why he played in the Chicago camp at 217 pounds and then, according to numerous league sources, showed up at the New Jersey combine three weeks later weighing 229. Very few under-six-foot point guards -- John Bagley comes to mind, but there aren't many -- play for very long in the league being that heavy. And concerns about his weight overshadow the admiration NBA types have for Collins' toughness and willingness to take big shots.
"He can shoot and defend, but I'd be extremely leery of that body," said a Central Division personnel chief. "That's always been the issue with him, has been the weight."
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