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NBA Draft Thoughts (6/29/12)

By Paul Bessire

(Check out Jimmy Shapiro and Paul Bessire discussing the NBA Draft in the latest Podcast.)

Friday, June 29 at 4:25 PM ET

I fell in love with the NBA Draft when my favorite player at the time, Billy Owens, was drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the third overall pick in 1991. I remember breaking it down for my dad, projecting Larry Johnson to be the best player from the draft, Dikembe Mutombo to be the second best (I had an unhealthy obsession with the Big East growing up, somehow rooting for Syracuse, UConn, Providence, Seton Hall and Georgetown at the same time), Kenny Anderson as a huge bust and Eric Murdock as a sleeper. I was nine. Ten (or so) years later, NBADraft.net was my homepage and remained so for several years. In a relative context, with the evolution of both sports and both events, I can’t say that I am more excited about the NBA Draft than the NFL Draft (largely due to the fact that so few others seem to care about the NBA Draft – I have a friend who I talk to about twice a year; once on fantasy baseball draft day and once on the night of the NBA Draft), but it’s close (far closer than I would assume it is with most). And last night, for the 22nd year in a row, I followed every minute of the proceedings.

This is not a mock draft (the fact that I am posting this after the draft should make that obvious). What matters to me regarding drafts is the only thing that should matter to personnel and fans - who should each team take and why. Before the draft, I tweeted a first round representation of what I would have done if I was running these NBA teams.  To do that, I will employ analysis that reviews college stats, age, height, weight, performance of similar players in that system and other measurables to project impact from each soon-to-be rookie. (Note: I took an objective look at each choice and each roster without the ability to make trades.)

Since the draft has completed, I will compare my selection to the actual selection the team made to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each pick.

1. New Orleans Hornets

My Pick: Anthony Davis, PF/C, Kentucky (6'11", 222 lbs. Age: 19)

Actual Pick: Anthony Davis

Length and athleticism were on full display in the NBA Playoffs this year. Anthony Davis may just be the length and athleticism prototype. While he honed guard skills growing up before a growth spurt late in high school, I don’t expect Davis to exhibit Kevin Durant’s fluidity, ball-handling and range or Tim Duncan’s passing and ability to run an offense from the post, but he should be able to develop into a defensive player akin to Kevin Garnett (and I would say that Garnett’s offensive game looks like his ceiling on that end of the floor).

New Orleans could not screw up this pick, but it could screw up how to play him. Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers (more on him soon) are the scorers on this team. Anthony Davis will anchor the defense and I think he could do that from the center position for his entire career and be a fringe all-star without having to do much offensively. Gustavo Ayon got serious minutes at center for New Orleans. Davis (even before he eats a few more sandwiches) is a massive upgrade. (Note: I’m not necessarily one to subscribe to the importance of defined positions in basketball, but qualifying Davis as a power forward is backwards when his comps are almost all centers.)

2. Charlotte Bobcats

My Pick: Thomas Robinson, PF, Kansas (6'9", 244 lbs. Age: 21)

Actual Pick: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 
The second best player in this year’s draft, Robinson, is also the most difficult for me to translate. Robinson is a slightly, undersized power player with a maturing game. He fits the long and athletic mold and he gets after it. When I picture Robinson, all I see are shoulders, which I think places him somewhere between Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard (much closer to Millsap in ability and ceiling) in his frame. What does a bigger Millsap or a much smaller Howard turn into in the NBA? I’m not sure, but the signs point to Robinson as possessing the kind of package that will do something in the league and likely soon.

Charlotte opted for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to get versatility rather than power. While I do not necessarily hate the pick for the struggling Bobcats, MKG is not the answer for what ails the team. Aside from the national attention that their high schools and colleges received, little separates MKG from Kawhi Leonard, the 15th pick in last year’s draft who was a great rotational player and NBA All-Rookie First Team for the San Antonio Spurs this season. If Leonard had not been drafted by a perennial playoff team, especially that playoff team, his rookie performance would not have looked nearly as strong because he would have been asked to do too much and would not have had the pieces around him to hide his deficiencies and amplify his strengths. MKG could easily suffer a similar fate.

3. Washington Wizards

My Pick: Jeremy Lamb, G, Connecticut (6'5", 179 lbs. Age: 20)
Actual Pick: Bradley Beal 
(Brick Tamland voice:) I love Lamb. (Actually, I love both Lambs in this draft and eating lamb as we will discuss later.) In Lamb, over Beal, the Wizards get a player with similar strengths that is longer, as athletic, has a higher shooting percentages from two, three and the free-throw line and statistically, otherwise is almost identical. The players are similar and close enough that it is impossible to fault the thinking, but I don’t see it more in Beal than Lamb when thoroughly reviewing their games. If every player who had a pretty jump shot was in the NBA, the entire state of Indiana would be in the league. Yet somehow, the kid who played at Ray Allen’s alma mater and put up better shooting numbers and otherwise identical stats to the kid from Florida does not get those comps or the buzz – likely because he went back to school to play another year after a strong freshman campaign.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

My Pick: Andre Drummond, C, Connecticut (7’0”, 280 lbs. Age: 18)
Actual Pick: Dion Waiters 
Do not count me among those who believe that, in today’s NBA, every team needs a true center or even a player who is seven feet tall. However, when said seven-footer is also 280 pounds, can run the floor very well and has enough talent that, had he stayed in high school like he could have last season, likely would have been the first overall draft choice in the 2013 NBA Draft, that sounds like a perfect fit for a team that has an elite perimeter player and could use a massive talent upgrade. I’ve watched enough tape on Drummond to know that this is not Hasheem Thabeet.

Drummond may not have been a project that the Cavs wanted (they already have Tristan Thompson – I’d much, much rather have Drummond), but he was the best player available for them. Instead, Cleveland took Syracuse’s sixth man hoping that he will turn into the next Russell Westbrook or Dwyane Wade (because he kind of plays and is built like Russell Westbrook). Dion Waiters is more likely to be Randy Foye or Ben Gordon than Russell Westbrook. That’s not what you want at number four or to compliment a much better combo guard who is the same age.

5. Sacramento Kings

My Pick: Harrison Barnes, SF, UNC (6'8", 228 lbs. Age: 20)
Actual Pick: Thomas Robinson

I have never been a fan of Harrison Barnes’ game. But, then again, I have never been a fan of Carmelo Anthony’s game and I would still concede that, even though Carmelo's game is not always conducive to helping his team win, that type of player warrants a top five selection (in a draft like this). Seriously, Carmelo and Barnes are almost exactly the same size and have almost exactly the same strengths and weaknesses. Carmelo is notably better at creating his own shot off the dribble, but Barnes is a better defender.

Sacramento got a steal with Robinson at number five. Cousins and Robinson will be fun to watch together – far more fun and successful than the Jimmer, Evans and Barnes combination would have been. Moving along…

6. Portland Trail Blazers

My Pick: Terrence Jones, F, Kentucky (6'10", 252 lbs. Age: 20)
Actual Pick: Damian Lillard 
Jones checks every physical and athletic box and has the most refined game of any of the Kentucky Wildcats in this draft. Maybe that is the problem though. Most notably with the sophomores who chose to come back to school and enter the NBA Draft after two seasons, NBA scouts and front offices know what they are getting with these types of players (while the freshman project to something that may be better). Jones can fit into many different roles, fills the stat sheet and does not hurt the team (except at the free throw line). He could have been a phenomenal compliment to LaMarcus Aldridge, yet he fell to a smart team that took two guys who have already appeared in the first six picks of my draft.

Portland went with Lillard of Weber State instead. It was a position of need. I (clearly – see below) get the thinking. However, I completely subscribe to the thought that just about any highly touted recruit at Lillard’s position (guard) could go to Weber State and, by his senior season, dominate at least as much as Lillard did against that competition. That may tell you more about what the college basketball and NBA landscapes would look like if players stayed all four years, but the point is still there that Lillard’s numbers need to be put into context (sorry Tom Penn – numbers don’t mean anything unless one considers how the player got them).

Lillard was praised because he finished the season second in the country in scoring at the DI level. Here are the top three scorers from the last ten years (count the NBA players):

2001-02 1) Jason Conley 2) Henry Domercant 3) Mike Chatman

2002-03 1) Ruben Douglas 2) Domercant 3) Mike Helms

2003-04 1) Keydren Clark 2) Kevin Martin 3) Taylor Coppenrath

2004-05 1) Keydren Clark 2) Taylor Coppenrath 3) Ronnie Price

2005-06 1) Adam Morrison 2) J.J. Redick 3) Keydren Clark

2006-07 1) Reggie Williams 2) Trey Johnson 3) Morris Almond

2007-08 1) Reggie Williams 2) Charron Fisher 3) Michael Beasley

2008-09 1) Stephen Curry 2) Lester Hudson 3) Jermaine Taylor

2009-10 1) Aubrey Coleman 2) Adnan Hodzic 3) James Anderson

2010-11 1) Jimmer Fredette 2) Marshon Brooks 3) Adrian Oliver

7. Golden State Warriors

My Pick: Bradley Beal, G, Florida (6'5", 202 lbs. Age: 19)
Actual Pick: Harrison Barnes 
Based on my comments above, given that Beal was off the board, this would have been a good spot for Jeremy Lamb, but it is difficult to argue with Harrison Barnes (who actually fits better with a rotation of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut than Jeremy Lamb does – had he been available, I would have taken Barnes here over Beal as well).

8. Toronto Raptors

My Pick: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F, Kentucky (6'8", 233 lbs. Age: 19)
Actual Pick: Terrence Ross 
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist does all of the things well that DeMar DeRozan does not, which would have set the Raptors up with a formidable duo on the wing. Instead, they drafted DeMar DeRozan again. Redundancy of league average players is never a good thing in basketball.

9. Detroit Pistons

My Pick: John Henson, F/C, UNC (6'10", 216 lbs. Age: 21)
Actual Pick: Andre Drummond 
Despite sharing many physical characteristics with previous NBA Draft busts, Henson on the court performance was strong enough to project him as a likely contributor in the league for a long time. He would have fit better as a complimentary piece to a team that already had a good post player (like in Detroit with Greg Monroe as opposed to in Milwaukee with… umm… hmm…), but I think he can still produce. As noted, Drummond has the profile of a potential bust (for basically the opposite reasons) and, thus, could be a very nice fit to evolve next to Monroe in Detroit.

10. New Orleans Hornets

My Pick: Kendall Marshall, PG, UNC (6'4", 198 lbs. Age: 20)
Actual Pick: Austin Rivers 
With Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon on the Hornets, having someone who could both run in transition to leverage the team athleticism and who could manage an offense in the half-court, particularly in pick-and-roll situations, would have added quite a bit to the team. Marshall is the best passer and game manager from this draft. Rivers, who I did not draft for nine more spots, can certainly run in transition, but do not expect him to be passing the ball or successfully managing an NBA half-court offense. It’s all iso with Rivers, which I think will detract from Gordon and Davis.

11. Portland Trail Blazers

My Pick: Damian Lillard, G, Weber State (6'3", 189 lbs. Age: 21)
Actual Pick: Meyers Leonard 
I did not love Lillard at six, but I still understand the reasons for the Trail Blazers targeting a player with his skillset. To his credit, from the list of leading scorers above, his all-around game and size profiles closest to Stephen Curry.

Clearly, since I don’t have Leonard going until 27 and I had Terrence Jones (who was still available at 11) going to Portland at six, I do not like this pick for Portland. This is not 1984. Teams do not have to draft seven-footers just because they are seven feet tall. There are four traditional, seven foot centers in the NBA: Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert and Tyson Chandler. With the possible exception of Andre Drummond, there is no one who will be adding his name to that list. And, while all the teams of all of those players made the playoffs, none of them played in the conference finals.

12. Houston Rockets

My Pick: Dion Waiters, G, Syracuse (6'4", 221 lbs. Age: 20)
Actual Pick: Jeremy Lamb
Jeremy Lamb > Dion Waiters. Daryl Morey > pretty much everyone besides Sam Presti

13. Phoenix Suns

My Pick: Marquis Teague PG, Kentucky (6'2", 180 lbs. Age: 19)
Actual Pick: Kendall Marshall
I see what you did there Phoenix. No matter when it happens, Marshall will eventually take over running the Suns offense from Steve Nash. I love the pick. I would have made it myself had I not already drafted him (for New Orleans).

Meanwhile, Teague inexplicably falls to Chicago at 29 (a steal for the Bulls). Teague’s numbers do not look as explosive as former Calipari greats like Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall, but he managed his team to a championship by minimizing the mistakes (and shooting better from the free throw line and, of course, having a better supporting cast, which also cannibalized his numbers) than those players. Teague has a great deal of talent and a solid, smart game (and a ring) to go with it. I think he deserved to be a lottery pick this year.

14. Milwaukee Bucks

My Pick: Royce White, F, Iowa State (6'8", 261 lbs. Age: 21)
Actual Pick: John Henson 
Not too surprisingly, given his great passing skills and size, White is a favorite of the analysis that I conducted – even better than this spot at 14 (and the spot at 16 where he went). However, with anxiety concerns and a limited body of work, it would be difficult to draft White any higher. For the Bucks, even though they ultimately picked a player than I had going five spots higher, White profiles as the better fit for that team. I love(d) the concept of White on the wing getting the ball in space to Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Henson will add an interior defensive presence and rebounding to offset Jennings and Ellis, but the team already has several players like that (Samuel Dalembert, Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, Luc Mbah a Moute).

15. Philadelphia 76ers

My Pick: Andrew Nicholson, F, St. Bonaventure (6’10", 234 lbs. Age: 22)
Actual Pick: Maurice Harkless 
Going into the 2008 NBA Draft, I had Ryan Anderson as the fifth best player on the board. Nicholson, who ended up on Anderson’s team with the actual 19th pick, looks like he found a similar level of inside-out balance by his senior season at St. Bonaventure.  I love his all-around game and think he will be a solid NBA player.

Having watched almost all of his games at St. John’s (every time getting “How could you be so Harkless” stuck in my head), I enjoy Harkless’ game. He gets to the rim better than just about any player his height that I have ever seen. However, there are major red flags that show up in my analysis, including his rail thin body, terrible outside shooting, below average free throw shooting and inability to do more than penetrate, rebound and, occasionally, get in passing lanes. He looks like a high-energy athlete with no obvious role other than to come off the bench and run. That sounds too much like Gerald Green for me to ignore.

16. Houston Rockets

My Pick: Tyler Zeller, C, UNC (7’0", 247 lbs. Age: 22)
Actual Pick: Royce White 
Zeller blossomed in his final two seasons at UNC and projects as a low-ceiling, high-floor rotational player who can score efficiently and use his size to rebound, but does not do much else.

For what it’s worth… Royce White > Tyler Zeller; Daryl Morey still > everyone besides Sam Presti

It’s interesting to see these players together in this exercise. Most fans look at what the Rockets did and think that they failed because they did not land a superstar with their trades. However, I look at it and see that they turned Chase Budinger, Samuel Dalembert and the 14th pick into the third, sixth and 14th players in my “should do” draft (not to mention Jon Leuer, Shaun Livingston and Jon Brockman). They may continue to shop around for a “star,” but that is ridiculous value regardless of what happens going forward.

17. Dallas Mavericks

My Pick: Doron Lamb, G, Kentucky (6’5", 199 lbs. Age: 20)
Actual Pick: Tyler Zeller – Traded to CLE 
While Morey was running circles around most of the NBA, Cleveland took the fourth, 24th, 33rd and 34th pick and turned them into the 12th and 16th players in my “should do” draft. Yuck…

Doron Lamb is the first player in my draft that was not taken in the first round. He should have been. Lamb is the best shooter in the draft and would have been an excellent asset to any team looking to upgrade perimeter shooting. He is no smaller than Jeremy Lamb and is a very good athlete. He fell to Milwaukee with the 42nd pick, which is one spot behind where Milwaukee took Kentucky sharpshooter Jodie Meeks in 2009. If he gets minutes, Meeks is Lamb’s floor.

18. Houston Rockets

My Pick: John Jenkins, G, Vanderbilt (6'4", 212 lbs. Age: 21)
Actual Pick: Terrence Jones 
If Lamb is the best outside shooter in the draft (which is my assertion), Jenkins is probably next on that list.

Still, Terrence Jones > John Jenkins; Daryl Morey > everyone besides Sam Presti

19. Orlando Magic

My Pick: Austin Rivers, G, Duke (6'5", 203 lbs. Age: 19)
Actual Pick: Andrew Nicholson
As alluded to earlier, I think Nicholson is too much like Ryan Anderson for this pick to make total sense, but I do like Nicholson better than Rivers. I don’t think Rivers will tank in the NBA, but that’s because he will do everything he can on the court to get his – not necessarily to be selfish or to inflate his numbers, but because that is his mentality. That’s often counter-productive to winning team basketball.

20. Denver Nuggets

My Pick: Draymond Green, F, Michigan State (6'8", 236 lbs. Age: 22)
Actual Pick: Evan Fournier 
All that I am sure I know about Evan Fournier at this point is that, if I’m the Denver Nuggets, I would much rather have Draymond Green. Green helps teams win. Denver has a roster of guys who contribute in different ways without any individual star. Green would have fit in perfectly.

21. Boston Celtics

My Pick: Jared Sullinger, F/C, Ohio State (6’9", 268 lbs. Age: 20)
Actual Pick: Jared Sullinger 
It is impossible to evaluate Jared Sullinger without knowing the full extent of his back injury. That being said, I do not think that I would have characterized his profile as much better than around tenth in this, a weak draft. For every Carlos Boozer, Sullinger’s healthy ceiling, there are plenty of undersized, unathletic, stocky forwards who do not materialize in the NBA because they struggle against taller, longer opponents and cannot defend any positions on the floor. A healthy Sullinger is definitely an NBA player and a steal for Boston if that is what they get, but I do not believe we were ever looking at a top-three player on an NBA Playoff team.

22. Boston Celtics

My Pick: Quincy Miller, F, Baylor (6'10", 219 lbs. Age: 19)
Actual Pick: Fab Melo 
Aside from being tall, Miller and Sullinger are essentially opposites. Miller is a 6’10”, ultra-athletic, very raw wing player who can block shots. Miller, who fell to the 38th pick with Denver, probably should have waited a year to prove he could play better than what he did coming off of ACL surgery in his freshman season. Still, athletic, 6’10” wings who can shoot well from anywhere on the floor are not common. Denver may have a future star if Miller can get healthy (and eat some cheeseburgers).

Melo, on the other hand, averaged 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes, while playing only 25.4 minutes a game for Syracuse last season. A drastically improved player from his freshman season to his sophomore season (most notably from a 36% free throw shooter to a 63% free throw shooter), his game may still be able to grow quite a bit. It’s not likely, though. It never is.

23. Atlanta Hawks

My Pick: Perry Jones, F, Baylor (6'11", 234 lbs. Age: 20)
Actual Pick: John Jenkins

If the Hawks hold onto Josh Smith and Al Horford, Jenkins, who I had going five spots earlier, is obviously a better fit for this team anyway. However, even though I have the “top five talent” (what does this mean if the guy can’t ever do that on the court), higher than he actually went (28 to Oklahoma City), I wonder if I there is bias in my judgment as well. Quincy Miller has a similar frame, a question mark with his knee and less productivity on the same team, yet I had him go with the last pick. Ultimately, I think I view them as very similar players where one – Jones – has a medical red flag now and the other – Miller – has recovered from his knee injury and should only get better as gets a chance to play more.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers

My Pick: Will Barton, F, Memphis (6'6", 174 lbs. Age: 21)
Actual Pick: Jared Cunningham Traded to DAL 
Assuming that Cleveland was going to keep this pick and that they had already drafted a big defensive specialist in Andre Drummond and a shooting specialist in Doron Lamb, I targeted the best remaining scorer in the draft in Will Barton. Never afraid to pull the trigger on a shot, Barton averaged 18 points a game for Memphis, while shooting 51% from the field. He also averaged eight rebounds a game, which is fantastic for a 6’6” wing player. Ask any Cavs fan if he/she would rather have Drummond, Lamb and Barton (and, technically, two more picks) to go with Irving or Waiters and Zeller. At least I can envision Drummond, Lamb and Barton starting in the league at some point in their careers.

Jared Cunningham is a poorer shooting, poorer rebounding, more aggressive version of Will Barton. I’d rather have Barton, but Cunningham was in the mix for this pick as a high volume scorer.

25. Memphis Grizzlies

My Pick: Tyshawn Taylor, G (6'4", 177 lbs. Age: 22)
Actual Pick: Tony Wroten 
Point plankn.

26. Indiana Pacers

My Picks: Darius Johnson-Odom, G, Marquette (6'3", 212 lbs. Age: 22)
Actual Pick: Miles Plumlee
WTF? In his defense, Plumlee put up better aggregate and similar efficiency numbers to Fab Melo who was drafted four picks earlier, but that was a bad pick. Indiana has David West, Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, Louis Amundson and others who are better at what Plumlee does.

Backcourt depth looks more important to Indiana than frontcourt depth (especially to move Paul George into a platoon with Danny Granger or to replace Granger altogether). Darius Johnson-Odom can do almost everything from the guard position and could have fit well into a role that relied on his defense, quickness and shooting. Marquette recruits players that are often undersized, yet schools them well on both ends of the floor and (often because of their size or because of the team’s propensity to pick up JUCO transfers) gets them to stay through their senior seasons, which tends to produce NBA ready role players. Like Jimmy Butler, Lazar Hayward and Wesley Matthews, DJO and Jae Crowder (my 30th selection) are two great examples of this in one season.

27. Miami Heat

My Pick: Meyers Leonard, C, Illinois 7’1", 250 lbs. Age: 20)
Actual Pick: Arnett Moultrie Traded to PHI
Little separates Leonard and Moultrie. Either of them could have been helpful to the Heat. Miami could stand to add cheap talent and size rather than trade it away… I guess they can keep expecting veteran players to come to town for the ring and not the bank.

28. Oklahoma City Thunder

My Pick: Maurice Harkless, F, St. John’s (6'9", 207 lbs. Age: 19)
Actual Pick: Perry Jones
Sam Presti > everyone else, including Daryl Morey

29. Chicago Bulls

My Pick: Jeffery Taylor, F, Vanderbilt (6'7", 212 lbs. Age: 23)
Actual Pick: Marquis Teague
Without a strong outside shooter or offensive manager/point guard left on the board, I had the Bulls opting for a tremendously athletic, defensive specialist in Taylor. He would have fit the philosophy of that team incredibly well. Of course, had Teague still been around, I would have taken him here instead.

30. Golden State Warriors

My Pick: Jae Crowder, F, Marquette (6'7", 241 lbs. Age: 21)
Actual Pick: Festus Ezeli 
Above, when discussing Darius Johnson-Odom, I referenced the strong, tough, defensive-minded, undersized NBA ready players that Marquette has produced recently. While those comments hold true for Crowder as well, he also fits the molds of players like Paul Millsap and Reggie Evans who can and want to get every rebound. Golden State has height in its frontcourt from David Lee, Andrew Bogut and others. With the deterioration of Andris Biedrins game, though (and a loaded backcourt with Curry, Thompson, Beal and others), the Warriors could have benefited from a player with Crowder’s attitude and ability.

Festus Ezeli looks nice enough coming off the bus…

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