June 25, 2009

It's Getting Draft-y in Here

Hey Favourite Readers,

Tonight is one of my most anticipated nights of the year... no, it's not the night that Reg comes over and reads me a bedtime story... it's the NBA Draft! At first glance, it might not appear very exciting, but this night brings with it endless hope and possibility... and, more often then not (since I'm a Raptors fan), the chance to watch all that hope and possibility come crashing down around me. My good friend, Paul, and I have fond memories of throwing cushions around in his parents living room and discussing whether we should jump ship and become Nets fans after the Raptors drafted Charlie Villanueuva and Joey Graham ahead of Danny Granger a few years ago. Paul's not here with me this year... and I don't have cable, so I'm relegated to following the pick-by-pick draft recap on ESPN.com. Still, that's not going to stop me from sharing my draft night thoughts with all of you. The good news is that I should be relatively calm tonight as it doesn't look like the Raptors are going to make a colossal error this time around (I guess they could always surprise me and draft B.J. Mullens, or something). Regardless, I'm trying to keep my ripoff of Bill Simmons' patented "Draft Diary" column as subtle as possible, so rather than keeping a running diary of the draft's events, I'll settle for sharing some of my thoughts on each pick... let's see how long this can last. I'm betting that I can keep writing longer than you can keep reading. Hmmm... it doesn't look like there's any benefit to you for taking me up on that bet... aside from a juicy and insightful look into the draft thoughts of yours truly.

Pick No. 1 - Los Angeles Clippers
Selection: Blake Griffin (PF) Oklahoma

Thoughts: No surprise here... by all accounts Griffin is as close to a sure thing as there is, and he is far and away the best player in this draft class. I only watched 20 - 30 minutes of Blake Griffin playing in college, but in that short time it was pretty clear that he has all the tools to succeed in the NBA... a great body (some have called it one of the best NBA bodies since Karl Malone), big hands, a good sense of the game, and breath-taking athleticism for a guy his size. The wild-card here is that he has to play for the Clippers and you can just sense that something weird is going to happen and completely derail his career. In fact, I think you could say that the biggest loser in this year's draft are Blake Griffin's ACLs (I'm glad that I was able to be the 2,457th person to make that joke). Bill Simmons wrote an extremely thorough article about the Clippers snake-bitten history, and it's really staggering to see it laid out like that all in one place. Obviously I don't put much stoke in his idea that the franchise is cursed, but at the very least you have to admit that something fishy is going on with that team. For Griffin's sake, I hope all his major tendons and ligaments can hold out for four years until he's able to sign with another team.

Pick No. 2 - Memphis Grizzlies
Selection: Hasheem Thabeet (C) Connecticut

Thoughts: This has been the pick rumoured that Memphis would make for some time now... even though Ricky Rubio is clearly the second-best player in the draft. Before I talk about Thabeet, I want to say a little something: being a Raptors fan hasn't exactly been carrots and sugar-corn, but I can't even imagine being one of the poor souls that hopped aboard the Grizzly train back in 1995. This franchise has been terrible for so long and has had so little happen to even let the fans get excited about... at least us Raptors followers got to enjoy the Vince Carter era, not to mention being witness to the career of Alvin Williams. What's more, the team was never really given the chance to get off the ground in Vancouver and was sadly relocated to Memphis. I guess they did make the playoffs three straight years in the Pau Gasol era, but I'm pretty sure they got swept in the first round every time. How's that link for depressing... Grizzlies fans have never had the chance to celebrate a single playoff victory! Unbelievable! Anyway, I just heard the sound indicating that the next pick has been made, so I should give some thoughts on Thabeet and move on. I do think they're reaching a bit on Thabeet at No. 2, especially since he has some bust potential, but at the same time, I don't necessarily hate the pick. The upside of Thabeet is that he could develop into a bonafide defensive stopper in the NBA (a la Dikembe Mutombo). On the flip side, I don't think you're ever going to get anything from him offensively, and if he fails to adjust to the speed and length of pro players, he may just be another tall, lanky guy who ends up on a lot of posters... in a bad sense (a la Shawn Bradley). Since he's going to play for the Grizzlies... I'd bank on the latter.

Pick No. 3 - Oklahoma City Thunder
Selection: James Harden (SG) Arizona State

Thoughts: I'm a little disappointed in the Zombie-Sonics on this one. They have been building a really good young core of players with Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russel Westbrook and I was hoping to see them swing for the fences with Ricky Rubio and look to create a potential dynasty that would be enormously fun to watch. Still, Harden is a safe pick and positionally fits in well with that group of players. After the Draft Lottery, I was hoping he was a player who would fall to the Raptors at No. 9... it quickly became apparent that we weren't going to get that lucky. He's the type of player who's high basketball IQ is really valuable to his team, but I've heard he's only an average athlete and seems destined for to be a good-but-not-great player. He seems like a bit of a reach at No. 3, but Sam Presti is a smart GM and must see something he likes in Harden (either that or he's working on a trade).

Pick No. 4 - Sacramento Kings
Selection: Tyreke Evans (SG) Memphis

Thoughts: Evans is another player that I was initially hoping would fall to the Raptors. Still, Sacto desperately needs a PG and this seems like a strange pick with Rubio and even Jonny Flynn still on the board. I really don't see Evans developing into a point guard in the pros, but he could always surprise me. I do think he has an uncanny knack for getting to the basket and finishing around the rim. Apparently there have been some Dwyane Wade comparisons with him, but I heard Chad Ford shoot those down pretty definitively... he doesn't have nearly the athleticism of Wade and tends to finish below the rim, rather than above it. Not a bad pick, but not one that I see saving a terrible Sacramento team that is in danger of relocating.

Pick No. 5 - Minnesota Timberwolves
Selection: Ricky Rubio (PG) Spain

Thoughts: Finally somebody grabbed Rubio! Apparently the T-Wolves decided that a teenage prodigy from Spain who held his own against Chris Paul in the Olympics -- even with one injured arm -- and whose passing skills have been positively compared to Steve Nash, Pete Maravich, and Larry Bird was worth taking a chance on. I would tend to agree. This pick definitely justifies the strange trade they made with Washington to acquire the No. 5 pick when they already owned the No. 6... speaking of which, let's see who they nabbed with that one.

Pick No. 6 - Minnesota Timberwolves
Selection: Jonny Flynn (PG) Syracuse

Thoughts: OK... now I'm confused. There has to be another trade in the works for the T-Wolves... it doesn't seem to make sense to take another point guard after grabbing Rubio. I like Flynn a lot and he was one of the more intriguing options the Raptors had their sights on. He's one of those tough little guys who's tenacity alone will keep him in the league for a long time. I see him as a slightly more talented Kyle Lowry. I only saw a little of him during the NCAA tournament this year, but during that time I saw him stand in and take a charge from Blake Griffin, who had a full head of steam at the time. It was pretty impressive, even if it was one of the dumbest things I've ever witnessed a human being do. Anyway, we'll see how this plays out because I don't see the T-Wolves keeping both of these guys.

Pick No. 7 - Golden State Warriors
Selection: Stephen Curry (PG) Davidson

Thoughts: Looks like I'm finally caught up to the real time action, and pretty much just in time to see what the Raps do. By the way, I love this pick. A lot of people are worried about Curry's size, but I don't really see a scenario where he doesn't develop into a very decent NBA player (at a minimum). I had the privilege of watching him in person during the 2008 NCAA tournament, and there was just something about him that set him apart from the rest of the players on the floor. Partially, it was the fact that he was the guy dropping one three-point bomb after another to rip the heart out of Wisconsin, but it also had to do with the way he carried himself with an extreme confidence (not cockiness) and just knew that he was the guy who was going to dictate the flow of the game. He is incredibly adept at creating space for himself and has such a beautiful, high-arcing shot that he can get it off in traffic, even against guys who are much taller than him. I don't know about them projecting him as a point guard... he'll be able to handle the position, but I think he'll excel playing off the ball. Golden State should be an ideal situation for him, as that offense will allow him to get his shots, and his defensive shortcomings won't really matter, since they don't really play defence anyway.

Pick No. 8 - New York Knicks
Selection: Jordan Hill (PF) Arizona

Thoughts: I'm sure the Knicks were heart-broken to watch Curry get snatched up just ahead of them, as I heard he was the guy they really wanted. Jordan Hill was probably the right pick here... sometimes you just need to get the most talented guy available. Hill now gives them the option of letting David Lee walk in free agency, which will keep with their strategy of clearing as much money as possible for the LeBron push in 2010.

Pick No. 9 - Toronto Raptors
Selection: DeMar DeRozan (SG) USC

Thoughts: I knew going in that I probably wouldn't have a huge opinion on any of the guys the Raps took here. Brian Colangelo stated the other day that he was targeting five guys (Jonny Flynn, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Gerald Henderson, and James Johnson) and you knew most of those guys would be available at No. 9. Johnson was been the only guy I would have really been unhappy with. Holiday and DeRozan are wait-and-see guys, either of whom could end up being stars (or flops), while Henderson or Flynn would have been safer picks with a lower ceiling, but less risk. I probably would have preferred Henderson, but DeRozan most seemingly fills their glaring need for an athletic wing. The question will obviously be whether he can harness his raw athleticism and actually become a well-rounded basketball player. It's a little unsettling that he had such a mediocre year in college, after coming in with so much hype. Anyway, he's now my guy (that's the way this thing works) and I'm here to tell you that he's going to be the next Kobe Bryant... he'll be a lock-down defender and will be impossible to contain on offense. He'll probably win at least three MVP awards and should lead the Raptors to seven NBA Titles... if not more. I love DeMar DeRozan!!!

[Note: It's interesting that the Raptors never even mentioned Brandon Jennings in their list. By all accounts, he has more talent than anyone on their list. I guess there was something about him that BC didn't like.]

Pick No. 10 - Milwaukee Bucks
Selection: Brandon Jennings (PG) Italy

Thoughts: Speaking of... You couldn't really fault the Bucks for any pick they made here, since they have so many holes across their roster. I'm not sure what to make of Jennings, as he sounds like a bit of an enigma... tons of talent, but on the flip side, he didn't even get heavy minutes playing in the Italian league last year. Still, if Michael Redd comes back healthy, it's conceivable that he and Jennings could form a formidable backcourt tandem, with Ramon Sessions (if they resign him) being the spark-plug off the bench, which is the ideal role for him, in my opinion. Like DeRozan, Jennings could be a star or a flop, so I think this is another pick that we'll have to wait to evaluate.

Pick No. 11 - New Jersey Nets
Selection: Terrence Williams (SG) Louisville

Thoughts: After they traded Vince Carter earlier today, it was pretty much a given that the Nets were going to take Williams. I don't know much about Williams, but from the small amount I've seen, he's nowhere close to the kind of scorer that Carter is -- he's more of a guy who's good at everything, but not great at anything. I guess it's a given that they weren't going to replace Carter's points, since you're not supposed to be able to find a guy like that this late in a weak draft... but they are really left with a dearth of scorers after this trade. It'll be interesting to see how the structure the team next year... they could actually be pretty decent if they are able to play solid team defence and if Brook Lopez continues to improve and they play a pick-and-roll game with him and Devin Harris on offense. I still don't see them being a major player in the East, but they will still be competitive, which would be impressive after pretty much straight-up dumping Vince Carter to shed salary (they did get Courtney Lee in the deal, who's not bad... but still).

Pick No. 12 - Charlotte Bobcats
Selection: Gerald Henderson (SG) Duke

Thoughts: It's always fun to see which rookie is going to have to put up with Larry Brown jerking his minutes around... looks like Henderson gets the "privilege" this year (as an aside, I wonder if there will be any Duke - North Carolina tension in the locker room between those two). I actually really like this pick... I feel that in weaker drafts it's always best to go for proven players who have spent time learning the game in strong college programs. These players sometimes tend to get underrated, since scouts love players with raw talent... unfortunately, in a lot of cases that talent remains untapped. Teams tend to be guilty of staying away from guys who appear to have already reached their ceiling, even if that ceiling is better than what you'll get from the "raw talent" guys nine times out of ten. Probably the best recent example of this is Gilbert Arenas, who fell to the 2nd Round in the 2001 draft. Back to Henderson, as much as I dislike Duke -- and most of its players -- I actually don't mind Henderson and think his game has a good chance of evolving nicely at the pro level. I don't think he'll ever be a star, but he should provide solid (possibly great) defense and timely scoring as the 3rd or 4th option on a team. I think this is a really solid pick for Charlotte.

Pick No. 13 - Indiana Pacers
Selection: Tyler Hansbrough (PF) North Carolina

Thoughts: Haha... I was looking forward to this part of the draft (i.e., the part where I get to make fun of Hansbrough for a whole paragraph). In one sense it's nice that the hard-working guy who's proven he can play well in college for four years gets taken ahead of talented underclassmen who have never had to work for anything... but what was Indiana thinking here? Even if Earl Clark doesn't attend practice for the rest of his life, he'll still be a better pro player than Hansbrough. I heard that Hansbrough actually surprised some people with his measurements at the combine, but he's still undersized to play PF in the pros, and there's no way he has the quickness to transition to SF. If he had a better basketball IQ or passing skills, he might be able to develop into a niche-PF a la Kevin Love, but that's not the case. In fact, he really doesn't have any definable skills apart from "good hustle" (similar to me when I played baseball). The good news is that the locals in Indiana will probably like him just for playing the game "the right way". The bad news is that he'll only get to play "the right way" in practice and garbage time.

Pick No. 14 - Pheonix Suns
Selection: Earl Clark (PF) Louisville

Thoughts: Here's another guy that was high on my pre-draft "wish list" for the Raptors. To be honest, if we had drafted him, I would be absolutely terrified that he would live up to the career standards of his best "NBA comparison"... Mr. Tim Thomas. On the other hand, it's hard not to be intrigued by his raw talent (I know, I'm doing exactly what I just recently criticized scouts for... I'm a hypocrite). Very few guys have the combination of length and agility that Clark has. It's also a good sign that he was such a good rebounder in college. I think he could end up being a really good player in the Suns system. With Shaq gone now, maybe they can play small ball with Amare playing centre and either Clark or Robin Lopez played the 4... they would suffer defensively, but does that really matter to the Suns? Besides, they would be a impossible for most teams to match up against. Since they don't really have a chance to compete next year, they may as well go back to being the most entertaining team in the league, right?

Well folks (and by that, I mean Reg and Paul), thanks for staying with me this long. That's the end of the lottery, and I don't think I'll have much interesting to say for the rest of the picks (I'm not even sure that I did for the previous ones). I do think it's interesting that Jrue Holiday fell out of the lottery... he's got to be a reasonable gamble for any team at this point... but apart from him and Eric Maynor (my draft sleeper), I don't think there will be any impact players drafted from this point on. Actually, it might be worth keeping an eye on Wayne Ellington and DeJuan Blair, as both fit my "proven players from elite college programs" theory that I outlined in the Gerald Henderson section.

This was a fun exercise in speed writing, so I'll probably go back and do a quick edit, but I doubt the grammatical quality of this post will be up to my usual standards. If you're looking for the same sort of thing -- only much, much better -- be sure to check out Bill Simmons' Draft Diary on ESPN.com tomorrow... it's never let me down in the past.

May Your Future Paths Lead You to Successes that are Equalled or Surpassed by DeMar DeRozan,