Thursday’s NBA draft was both exhilarating and head-scratching. Some players went higher than expected (ahem, Iman Shumpert). Others fell far, to teams that never expected to grab them (Chris Singleton and the Wizards, for instance).
It’s too early to tell which of these players will reach their potential and which ones will veer off the tracks in an Adam Morrison-like train crash. Like an overwrought episode of Franklin & Bash, it’ll take a while for the basketball community to reach its final verdicts.
In the meantime, here’s a quick pick-by-pick analysis of each player taken in this year’s lottery and how they fit with their new team:
1. Kyrie Irving (PG) – Cleveland
The look on Irving’s agent’s face when Irving’s name was called No. 1 was priceless. Turns out Cleveland had kept them in the dark all week long. Not a promise (despite there being word of a promise). Not a hint. Nothing. When you heard “Kyrie Irving to the Cleveland Cavaliers,” that’s the first time he heard it too. I’m sure Irving’s agent will remind Cavs executives of this in a few years when it comes time to sign an extension. In the meantime, Irving will be asked to keep the Cavs afloat with a nucleus of Baron Davis, AndersonVarejao, J.J. Hickson and Tristan Thompson. No easy feat. Let’s hope Dan Gilbert isn’t thinking playoffs any time soon.
2. Derrick Williams (PF) - Minnesota
David Kahn shopped this pick like a Desperate Housewife. In the end, though, there were no takers and he had to pick the best player available. That was, of course, Derrick Williams. Unfortunately, Williams creates a logjam at forward. The Timberwolves already have Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson (last year’s first round pick) at small forward, and Kevin Love and Anthony Randolph at power forward. Where does Williams fit into this mix? Size-wise, he’d be best at the “4” spot. But there’s no way a rookie is going to supplant Love, the rebounding champ, right? As Williams said of Love after the draft, “Whenever you have a game where you get 30 points, 30 rebounds, you deserve to be called a monster.” Given Williams’ scoring ability and athleticism, Kahn needs to find a way to make it work.
3. Enes Kanter (C) – Utah
My first thought upon seeing this pick was, “Oh great, another big man in Utah who doesn’t give a crap about defense.” And it’s true. Kanter follows in the footsteps of Mehmet Okur and Al Jefferson in a long line of Jazz bigs allergic to D. Sure, Kanter’s a gigantic cinderblock-of-a-man. But what good is his size if he can’t keep anybody out of the paint? He looks more lost on defense than Tyrion Lannister on a battlefield. I think Utah should have drafted Brandon Knight here and started the rebuilding process in total. Instead they took a high risk, high reward player who may or may not be a good fit next to Derrick Favors. I think that’ll turn out to be a big mistake.
4. Tristan Thompson (PF) – Cleveland
I’m convinced Kenner was behind this move. It was a Stretch Armstrong-level reach, the first truly surprising moment of the draft. I read mock drafts, rumors and reports all week. In none of them did I see Thompson going in the top 5. He’s a skilled player in the post and a very good presence on the offensive boards, but in no way will he make a top 5 level impact in the NBA. Not next season. Not anytime in his career. Jonas Valanciunas’ buyout situation made this a tricky pick. Still, Cleveland should have opted for talent over safety. Valanciunas could eventually be a top 25 player in the league. Thompson will be fortunate to crack top 100. The Cavs played it by the book with their first pick. They should have done it again here and taken Valananciunas. This was a make or break draft for them. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll be pleased with the results.
5. Jonas Valanciunas (PF/C) – Toronto
Speaking of Valanciunas, his interviews are so unintentionally funny I kept hoping for ESPN to skip the post-pick analysis after the Raptors picked him fifth and go straight to the one-on-one. Sure enough, when the microphone turned on the young Lithuanian, he froze like a 14-year-old caught staring across a middle school dance floor. The poor kid just doesn’t have a grasp of the English language yet. Which is cool. Not all of us can be Teddy Roosevelt. Besides, the guy can ball (especially in the pick-and-roll). When he comes over (and it won’t be next season), he’ll have a big impact in the T-Dot-o — and eventually the league as a whole.
6. Jan Vesely (SF) – Washington
Everybody went nuts over The Kiss. They’ll go even more nuts when Vesely starts hooking up with John Wall on half court alley-oops. This guy has athletic potential like no other European player we’ve seen. The question now becomes: how do you divide playing time between Vesely and Chris Singleton (the Wizards’ other prized first round pick)? Both are versatile players and above average defenders. They’re very similar. It doesn’t make sense for them to play at the same time. Vesely was picked higher. It stands to reason that he should get the starter’s nod. Either way, the basketball beat in Washington just got a little more exciting.
7. Bismack Biyombo (PF) – Charlotte (via Sacramento)
I was genuinely excited to see Biyombo walk up and greet David Stern. A month ago, few people knew who he was. Now, he’s a top 10 pick. Good things happen to good people. What happened to Biyombo validated that for me. Also, I love how Biyombo’s voice does not at all match his physical appearance. When he speaks, you expect something deep. A baritone. Dikembe Mutombo. Instead, it’s something entirely different. A Muppeted version of what his voice was intended to be. It’s priceless. In terms of fit, I think he’ll struggle at first to adapt to the culture of the NBA game a bit. Being a defensive and rebounding specialist, he’s a good fit for Paul Silas’ system, though. Silas loves tenacious defenders. He’ll know how to use Biyombo on that end.
Bonus – Quick thoughts on the Sacramento-Charlotte-Milwaukee trade: I can see why the Kings were itching to unload Beno Udrih. The $15 million remaining on his contract was a hindrance to them and they must have known with some certainty that Jimmer Fredette was going to be around at No. 10. But did they really need to take on John Salmons’ exorbitant salary (3 years, $24 million remaining)? Salmons has played for them before. They know what he’s about, and he’s not a good fit for them. If they truly had a deal on the table for Tony Parker and Richard Jefferson, then this move makes sense. If not, it’s a moment of lunacy. As a Kings fan, I used to trust Geoff Petrie. I’m not sure I can do that anymore.
8. Brandon Knight (PG) - Detroit
This was a coup for the Pistons. Knight is exactly the kind of intelligent, talented player they need to start turning this franchise around. Unfortunately, he knows exactly how much the franchise needs turning. He was not at all pleased to hear his name called at No. 8. When the pick was announced, the look on his face was something between disgust and okay, who left the chicken out all night? Like @netw3rk said on Twitter, it looked like he just found out his dog just died. I realize how bad the situation is in Detroit (they committed $90 million to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva for crying out loud). I probably would have had the same reaction as Knight. But this is Detroit. They don’t tolerate moping. If he’s going to lead this team anywhere, he needs to turn his attitude around and do just that: lead.
9. Kemba Walker (PG) - Charlotte
Walker and Biyombo. Not a bad haul for new general manager Rich Cho, who previously served a one-year stint in Portland. Like Biyombo, Walker is a high character guy and a strong leader. Critics are saying this is another weak draft for a franchise notorious for weak drafts. I liked this draft for Charlotte though. Talent-wise, Biyombo’s athleticism is top notch, and Walker’s a proven winner. Together they’ll begin to forge an identity for the Bobcats in the post-Stephen Jackson/Gerald Wallace era.
10. Jimmer Fredette (SG) – Sacramento (via Milwaukee)
Jimmer accomplishes two things for the Kings: 1) he’ll help them sell tickets, and 2) he’ll help them with their outside shooting. The first element is arguably more important. With their heads on the chopping block in Sacramento, the Kings have to convince residents and sponsors to kick in money for a new arena. With Jimmer in tow, that’s a lot easier to accomplish. He was college basketball’s biggest star last season and his popularity has carried over into the NBA crowd. The Kings are marketing him already like crazy. He already has his own splash page on their team website.
In terms of three-point shooting, well, that’s obvious. The Kings were awful from beyond the arc last season (26th in 3P%). Jimmer is a shooter with unlimited range. The hope is for him to take scoring pressure off of Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. If all else fails, the Maloofs can at least make one of Jimmer’s brother T.J.’s rap songs the official anthem of the 2011-12. Can’t beat that for comedy.
11. Klay Thompson (SG) – Golden State
If the Warriors are successful in trading Monta Ellis, I think this is a good pick. If not, Thompson will have a hard time developing into an impact player. His minutes will be reduced but expectations will be high because he was the first player brought in under the Mark Jackson regime. That would create a situation ripe for failure. I’m not saying he can’t handle the pressure — we don’t know how he’ll handle adversity yet. I’m just saying it’ll be hard for him to grow behind two guards that take such a high volume of shots. In other words, the Warriors need to move Ellis quickly. Andre Iguodala anyone?
12. Alec Burks (SG) – Jazz
This was the second pick of the night that surprised me (the first being Tristan Thompson). Burks has a lot of talent, but he also has the kind of attitude I wouldn’t necessarily peg as a Utah Jazz mentality. He has a chip on his shoulder. That’s something the Jazz prize (just look at Paul Millsap). But there’s something else there too. An overconfidence. The kind that is revealed when you are 6’6″ but compare yourself to the 6’9″ (okay, let’s be honest, 6’10”) Kevin Durant. I like that Burks has the agility to fit what Utah is trying to achieve defensively. I don’t like that he’s a guy who shoots under 30% from beyond the arc and is expected to play shooting guard. The combination of Kanter and Burks in the lottery makes me wonder if Kevin O’Connor knew what he was doing this year.
13. Markieff Morris (PF) – Phoenix
I have to admit, I laughed out loud at this one. Markieff Morris? The less talented Morris twin? The one who was expected to be the last guy left in the green room? Phoenix is taking him at 13? Still, Markieff seems confident he’s a good fit for the Suns. The way he was talking made it seem like he had a commitment from them. Granted, the Suns do need defensive help up front. But there were many, many more talented players left on the board here. I think they picked for need too much here. I certainly don’t think time will reveal Markieff as one of the 13 best players in this draft — or even one of the best 20. If you need me, I’ll be over here scratching my head.
14. Marcus Morris (SF) – Houston
This pick made more sense. Can you imagine Houston’s offense next season with Marcus Morris and Luis Scola on the court and Kevin McHale as their coach? It’ll be like an 82-game holiday devoted to post moves. Can’t you just imagine Morris and Scola out at practice with McHale teaching them iteration after iteration of his up-and-under move until they’ve become unstoppable cyborgs like something out of Terminator? Except instead of being designed to protect John Connor, they’re created with the sole purpose of destroying Kobe Bryant. It’ll be great. Sure, Marcus will have a tougher time getting his shot off over taller NBA defenders, but he’s a smart player. He’ll adapt. If not, he can always make good on that promise to send his brother flowers and a fruit basket. Or go into fashion. His suit game was on point Thursday. Yes, @chrispisar, even the pocket square. Rockets fans, you have a true Renaissance man in your midst. Treat him well.Google+