It’s time to put aside your LeBron, Carmelo and Kevin Love “what if” scenarios, and shift focus to the largest “what if” generator in the sports world: tomorrow’s NBA Draft. Having failed last year by selecting Anthony Bennett at number one, and having stuttered through three years of the Kyrie-rebuilding project, all the pressure of the Internets is on the Cavaliers to NOT F*CK THIS UP.
Fortunately for them, there is a plethora of talent on the board, and screwing up again seems close to impossible. The Bucks, 76ers and Magic are also unlikely to return from the draft without quality additions. But if you haven’t been paying 100% attention over the last few months, you might be feeling a little out of your depth in those water cooler discussions with colleagues who read ESPN and Grantland all day on company time.
Fear not…I’m here to answer your questions, and bring you up to speed. Let’s begin…
1. So, is Andrew Wiggins really all that?
Not as much as we were claiming awhile back. Before this college season, people were talking up Wiggins as the best prospect since LeBron. We quickly learned, however, that flashy YouTube mixtapes do not translate into a complete player, and Andrew has a lot of learning to do to become an effective NBA starter, let alone all-star. The good news is he has a ton of potential – you’ve seen this right?
His athleticism is scary, and he has already developed into an elite defender. However, his handle, jumpshot and passivity remain weaknesses. If he improves two out of those three – which seems likely considering his work ethic – then you can pencil him in for a decade of all-star appearances.
Best case scenario: Dwyane Wade. Worst case: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Who should take him: Cleveland. If there was ever a team that needed defense, it’s these God-awful Cavs. I think quite highly of Parker, but Cavs need to do something bold to turn around their franchise, and picking Wiggins could be just the ticket.
2. What is Jabari Parker’s ceiling?
The facts speak for themselves: this guy averaged 19 points per game as a freshman, throwing in 8.7 rebounds and picking up 10 ACC player-of-the-week nods. What’s more, he pulled a 3.63 GPA and has a strong record of extra-curricular leadership roles. It’s an impressive resume, and it seems extremely unlikely that he won’t be a productive player in the league. But what is his ceiling? His game has elements of Paul Pierce, Melo and Kevin Love, and if all goes well he could average 25-10 in a few years. Defense be damned – that’s worthy of a top-two pick any day of the week, if you ask me.
Best case scenario: Carmelo. Worst case: Antoine Walker
Who should take him: Milwaukee. This would be a home run for the Bucks – they need a marketable star who can create offense, and Parker would fill that role perfectly.
3. Who is the most athletic guy in the draft?
In each draft there’s always one guy who jumps out the gym, but hasn’t been able to put it all together on the court yet. In this edition, that would be Zach LaVine. The skinny UCLA product posted an insane 46-inch vertical last month, but could only manage 9.4 points per game at the college level. Who knows how much he’ll contribute, but if the Suns pick him up at No. 14 or No. 17, we’re in for some highlights next year!
Best case: Russell Westbrook. Worst case: Joe Alexander
Who should take him: Phoenix, for the reasons discussed above
4. What happened to Joel Embiid?
Injuries suck, and Embiid’s broken foot couldn’t have come at a worse time. He was firming as the top overall pick, but this latest setback simply can’t be ignored – the ghosts of Greg Oden continue to haunt the league. It’s a shame, as Joel is the rare seven-footer who manages to move with grace out on the floor.
His body (disregarding injuries for a second) is ready made for the center position, and his defensive instincts would help any team right away. The Cameroonian has only been playing basketball for three years, and has also already shown a natural flair for footwork. The risk, of course, is that foot. Can it support that large frame through an 82+ game season?
Best case scenario: Hakeem Olajuwon. Worst case: Greg Oden
Who should take him: It’s intriguing, as teams picking 3-5 already have promising young bigs on their roster. Boston could surely grab him if he falls to number six, and would consider the draft a huge success in this scenario.
5. Who’s this Australian kid on all those Footlocker commercials?
That’s Dante Exum, who has been ripping up the Australian school scene for a few years. This alone probably wouldn’t have him so high on draft boards, but he also managed to dominate the Under 19 FIBA World Champs last year, averaging 18 points and 4 assists against world class kids two years his senior. While Exum’s vertical leap wasn’t as impressive as some had expected at the combine, he blitzed the agility tests, and has insane horizontal athleticism for someone his size (6’6). He is still somewhat of an unknown entity, however, and in the “high-risk high-reward” category.
Best case: Uninjured Shaun Livingston Worst case: Injured Shaun Livingston
Who should take him: The Celtics or Lakers should move up to get him. Both could do with a unique, marketable talent, and Exum would provide this in spades. Otherwise, Orlando.
6. Who has the most unique game in the draft?
Exum is up there, but I’m going to have to go with Marcus Smart here. The dude clocked a faster agility time than John Wall, Chris Paul and Westbrook, yet completed 19 reps of the 185 pound bench press. He has great size for point guard at 6’3, with 6’9 wingspan and a 33-inch vertical. Put simply, he is a beast. A shrewd passer and able scorer, it seems he has the tools to fuck around* in the NBA. Yes, his long-range shooting needs work, but he’s definitely being slept on as far as I’m concerned.
Best case: Eric Bledsoe. Worst case: Keyon Dooling
Who should take him: LAKERS!
* Surely, you get what I’m saying here…surely!
7. Who has climbed the most up draft boards?
Noah Vonleh. Dude has skyrocketed in recent months, as generally happens with high upside guys. Vonleh has a 7’4 wingspan, which helped him lead the Big Ten in rebounding, and he also has the ability to step out and hit the three, which gets GMs drooling these days.
They’ve seemingly forgotten his inside scoring ability isn’t great, and he appears content to wait for teammates to create opportunities for him. He could be a fine complimentary piece on the right team, and his rebounding makes him less of a risk than he might otherwise be, but a few questions still remain on his overall game.
Best case: 2011 Channing Frye Worst case: 2009 Channing Frye
Who should take him: God knows Sacramento needs a power forward with range to compliment DeMarcus.
8. Wait…weren’t cats talking about Julius Randle a few months back?
Yup, but his stock has taken a slide – again, he isn’t as tantalizing as some of the other options. Dude is an NBA starter talent, for sure – he is strong, rebounds well and is comfortable with the ball in his hands, but doesn’t offer as much upside as the other guys mentioned here.
Best case: Zach Randolph. Worst case: Michael Sweetney
Who should take him: The Celtics should think long and hard about him. He’s an upgrade over Sullinger, in my mind.
9. Who is the best defender in the draft?
Wiggins might have a shot here, but we should give some respect to Aaron Gordon. He was built to defend multiple NBA positions, and will give whoever drafts him an immediate boost on that end of the floor. Physically, he compares with Blake Griffin – but he lacks the handles and offensive touch of BG. This is an incredible draft when it comes to athleticism. The lack of shine this guy is getting in the build up feels odd, but it’s just the way it is this year.
Best case: Prime Shawn Marion. Worst case: Kris Humphries
Who should draft him: He’s the one guy Sacramento should think about alongside Vonleh. Problem is, the Kings are the Kings, and they’ll probably end up drafting Nick Wiggins or someone. Meanwhile, the Lakers could do a lot worse than Gordon at No. 7.
10. Who are the shooters to watch out for?
Doug McDermott and Nik Stauskas, for sure. Doug topped the nation in scoring last season, while Nik was clutch from downtown. Both definitely have the skills and work ethic to succeed running off screens and launching bombs with just a slither of daylight available ala Kyle Korver, JJ Redick and Ray Allen.
Of course, they will have the same issues as those guys – namely, defense – but both have showed impressive athletic results at the combine, and teams would be unwise to consider them defensive liabilities just because of their skin color (as is often the case). Rodney Hood (who has the coolest name in the draft) also offers value in the teens for teams after a shooter, and has shown promise on the defensive end. I guess we can call him our “3 and D” guy of the draft.
11. I’m sick of all these combo guards these days…any genuine 1’s out there?
Shabazz Napier, Tyler Ennis and Elfrid Payton offer hope in this area. All have averaged 5+ assists per game at college for at least one season, which is no mean feat (Chris Paul averaged 6.3 in his college career). Napier has Damon Stoudamire potential, which actually isn’t as bad as it sounds.
Ennis has more doubters of late since his combine results weren’t pretty. Don’t get me wrong, Tyler can flat out run point, but his lack of upside hurt his stock. Payton, on the other hand, has shot up draft boards, mainly because of his defense. With the league the way it is at the moment, I’d go for Elfrid above the other two guys, as the ability to put the brakes on a point guard is becoming somewhat of a lost art in the NBA.
12. Who else should I watch out for?
The two Spartans, Garry Harris and Adreian Payne, are worth keeping an eye on. They’ve been recruited and brought up by Izzo, so you know they’re going to give their all night in and night out. Harris is a flat-out scorer who is undersized: it’s likely he’ll continue to score in the NBA, but at low shooting percentages. Payne has a nice outside game for a big man, but also conditioning issues due to a heart condition. Both could be solid bench guys in this league.
Jigga’s latest signing, James Young, can score the ball, and would be a welcome sixth man addition to some young, developing teams. T.J. Warren is similar, and should go in the first round. Kyle Anderson is a nice point-forward type, who could provide some ball-handling for funky bench-units. Sneaky defensive value can be had late in the first round with K.J. McDaniels.
Other guys to keep an eye on are Glenn Robinson III, his UoM teammate Mitch McGary, P.J. Hairston and a whole host of other European guys I know little about, and refuse to learn since they are likely to stay stashed in Europe anyway.