June 26, 2009

NBA Draft Recap: Thoughts and Observations

Ok, the NBA Draft is one of my favorite sporting events of the summer, so let's break this thing down with some thoughts on the players involved last night.

Blake Griffin - As strange as this sounds, I actually think Blake Griffin is a little underrated coming out of this draft. With all of the NBA types like Simmons lamenting the fact that he's going to the Clippers, I think there's a perception out there from some folks that Griffin is going to be a bust in the NBA. No chance. Griffin will be a good pro and probably a very good pro. The guy was DOMINANT in college and took his game to another level in the NCAAs. He's your classic NBA power forward in every way and will be a 20-10 lock barring injury. He's not going to the Clippers and putting up 5ppg and dropping out of the league in three years. If he had played college ball at UNC or Duke and was going to Phoenix in the draft instead of the Clippers, people would be a lot more excited about Blake Griffin.

He's not Barkley or Malone or Tim Duncan, but he's got at least an Elton Brand type career in him. The guy that I keep thinking of when I watch Griffin is Antwan Jamison. It's nothing pretty, but you look up at the scoreboard and they have 22 points and 11 rebounds. And they both do it with relative ease. Get Griffin a little 15 foot jumper to go with his post game, and he's going to be a real good power forward in the NBA.

For all the criticism of the 2009 NBA Draft, I think Griffin is a better prospect than Michael Beasley and Bargnani and Bogut and Marvin Williams and a lot of the other big men that have gone early in the last few years. Heck, he's a much safer bet than Greg Oden at this point.

Hasheem Thabeet - Uh oh, I guess that's where the draft drops off. I've been discussing Thabeet all year on this blog, and I just can't get on board with this guy as the #2 pick in the Draft. Are there things I like about him?? Yea, I love his size and the possibility that he could be a Mutumbo type defensive presence. He seems like a pretty good guy who will probably work on his game to become a better pro.

But he can't play basketball!!! Thabeet played three years of college ball, and AT BEST, he's still a huge project. When was the last time a guy with almost zero basketball skills coming out of college just magically turned into an All Star once he got to the NBA?? Don't you need to have some level of basketball skill?? It's not like Thabeet is one of these string bean power forwards with a ton of ability who just needs to add some bulk. Thabeet has an NBA body already but has high school ability to go with it.

I watched this guy probably twenty times over the last three years (if not more), and here's what I had to say about him at the NCAA Tournament:

TERRIBLE hands - You can't be a good offensive big man unless you have good hands and reflexes in the paint. Thabeet cannot catch the ball!! How many times would you see AJ Price drive to the bucket and dump it to Thabeet, and then he'd fumble the pass before collecting it?? You can't get away with that in the NBA. My feeling on hands is that you either have good hands or you don't. Thabeet has bad hands. Maybe they'll get a little better, but it's never going to be a strength for him. He'll certainly never have hands like Blake Griffin.

Bad instincts - The other thing for Thabeet offensively is that he has almost zero offensive skills or instincts. How many times does he grab a rebound two feet from the basket and try to put it on the floor?? Why would you do that?? You're 7'3"!!! Catch the ball and go up with it. Thabeet has no offensive moves either even though he played close to a hundred games at UConn. How does he not have any real moves??

Relies too much on the shotblock - For all the fuss about Thabeet as a defender (some of the praise is obviously deserved), how many times did we see him unnecessarily go for the block and then leave the weak side wide open for someone to sneak in and steal an offensive rebound?? It seems like UConn gives up a ton of cheap putbacks simply because Thabeet wasn't there to block out and clean the glass. And Thabeet seems to pick bad times to take a chance on a block when all he really should be doing is staying home and grabbing the board.

So what is his ceiling as a pro?? Dikembe Mutumbo?? Dalembert?? Couldn't he easily turn out to be Desagna Diop?? If so, is that really worth the #2 pick in the draft?? If he turns out to be Mutombo, I would say yes. But I don't think he's a lock to get to that level by any stretch. Thabeet will get better of course and probably can stay in the NBA a long time with his size and athletic ability, but you think of a #2 pick as a guy who can be a big time difference maker. I don't think of Thabeet at that level.

Bottom line, I think Thabeet is a huge reach at #2 and questionable to ever even be a starter in the league. He has backup center written all over him. Memphis needed a big man, but I don't think they'll solve that problem with Thabeet.

James Harden -- Another guy I've already commented on, so I'll just go with that again.

I had been hearing about how spectacular this guy was all year, so I was curious to see him play at some point this season. I was picturing like a Dwayne Wade type player with explosive moves who could take over a game at any moment. I first watched Harden during the Pac 10 tournament, and my initial impression was that he was one of those Chris Douglas-Roberts guys who isn't an athletic beast but seems to find ways to score even though he's not a pure shooter. But after watching him play against Syracuse, I don't really see what this guy brings to the table. Did he just play horribly or is really not that good?? Are there any Sun Devil fans who read this blog?? I saw a guy who looked disinterested, can't shoot, turned the ball over, and seemed perfectly content to defer to the other guys on his team. He gave off a vibe like he didn't care. If a guy can't get fired up for the NCAA tournament, what is he going to be like for 82 games in an NBA season?? He's not even Chris Douglas-Roberts. He's like the homeless man's CDR. That sentence alone should scare the heck out of an NBA team.

I'll clarify what I said there by saying that I have watched five games out of a two year career from James Harden. And by all accounts, he played the worst basketball of his career during that stretch. Until the Pac 10/NCAA Tournament, he was carrying that team and averaging 20+ points a game. There seem to be a lot of people who really like him and think of him as a glue guy with great character who could blend into a team and play unselfishly while also bringing a lot to the table.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I saw what I saw. When the stakes were high in tournament play, he folded. I thought ASU looked better when Harden was on the bench. He'd go to the bench and they'd be flying around and playing great, unselfish basketball. When he'd come back in, they'd get real lethargic again while they tried to work everything through him. And that's a college team.

I like what OKC is doing with their franchise, but I'm leery of Harden. I think he's a huge reach at #3, and I would have taken Curry if I was them.

Tyreke Evans - Another guy I'm thinking could be a disappointment. I'm never high on shooting guards who plan to play the point in the NBA. This guy just feels like a DeJuan Wagner/Larry Hughes redux to me. 6'5" combo guards who don't like to get their teammates involved and aren't deadly shooters aren't all that valuable in the NBA. In fact, I'm guaranteeing that Evans bounces around the league about five times in the next ten years.

Could he end up scoring 15-20 ppg for a couple years on some bad Kings' teams?? Yea, I could see that with his size and strength, but I don't see him ever being a lead guard on a playoff team.
If I was Evans, I would make myself valuable by becoming an elite defender. Maybe he could turn himself into a Ron Artest type guy who teams want because of his defensive skills.

Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio -- Seems like a lot of people are ripping the Twolves, but I sort of like what they did. In a weak draft like this one, why not take two cracks at the apple to make sure you get a good point guard?? These drafts are crapshoots, and every other pick is a bust. By taking the top two point guard prospects, you increase your odds of getting a good one. Get them both into camp and see how they look. Maybe one of them never pans out. If that happens, at least you have another option (instead of going back into the lottery looking for a point guard yet again). What else would they have done with that #6 pick that would have made them that much better anyway??

If you get them both in camp and both look great, then you move one of them for a haul of picks in 2010 or 2011.

Heck, I don't even think it's the worst idea to keep both of them. Maybe you don't play them together all the time, but you could have an intriguinglineup by playing both of them on the court at the same time.

People overanalyze "value" in drafts. At the end of the day, the goal is to get a good player no matter where you take him. There are too many busts out there to assign "value" on a pick. If you get good "value" on a guy who ends up being a bust, does that still make him a good value?? No, of course not. Maybe the TWolves could have gotten more value out of their #6 pick, but the goal for them was to come out of the draft with a good point guard. By taking two, they put themselves in good position to get at least one good one.

Demarr DeRozan -- Of all the guys in this draft, I think DeRozan might have the most upside of anyone. Honestly, I said on multiple occasions during the NCAA Tournament that I would have considered taking him with the #2 overall pick. DeRozan has SKILLS. He's strong and athletic and extremely smooth out there. He was the best player in the Pac 10 tournament (yes, that includes James Harden), and I thought he was the best player on the floor when USC played Michigan State in the NCAAs. Get him in the right offense (something like what the Orlando Magic do with Pietrus and Lewis), and he could be really good.

If he didn't come out after his freshman year, he would have had a legit shot to be the #1 overall pick next year. That's how I look at him. If he had stuck around for 3 years, he would have been one of those Ray Allen/Vince Carter types in college.

Jordan Hill -- YIKES. New York fans are going to be killing this guy in February when he's averaging 4ppg and 3rpg. I wrote this about him in March.

Ok, maybe he won't be a huge bust, but a top 5 pick?? My god, how weak is this draft?? Is this the weakest draft of all time?? I watched this guy intently in Indy, and there's nothing all that special about him. I thought he got outplayed badly by Samardo Samuels.

Plus, he's a junior. For some reason, I thought he was only a freshman, and now I'm seeing that he's actually a junior. For a junior, he's really not all that polished.

The guy that came to mind for me is Anderson Varejao. He seems like he can be an energy guy who does things around the bucket, but not a go-to-guy. I like Varejao, but is that the guy I want if I have a top 5 pick?? Not going to lie, I'd hope to get more than that out of that pick.

A soft big man in New York?? I don't see this ending up well. Bilas likes him apparently though, so he's got that going for him. Yea, he's got size, but I've seen enough 6'10 guys cycle in and out of the league in 4-5 years to fall in love with his size. It was a shaky pick, but the Knicks also got unlucky. They were praying for one of those point guards to drop down to them, and nobody was left. Now they're stuck with an unpolished Pac 10 big man who screams out "energy guy" at best.

BJ Mullens -- Part of me feels bad about BJ Mullens because he has had a really tough childhood, but I can't say that I was too bummed out to see him drop down into the lower part of the first round. Mullens did what he had to do for his family, but he did nothing to distinguish himself in his one year at Ohio State.

I can't see BJ Mullens ever materializing into a quality pro player. His size is nice, but Mullens is soft. And his athleticism is overstated. The words "for a white guy" should always be included with any mention of Mullens being athletic. There are white big man busts littered all over the league. What is so special about Mullens that differentiates him from any other white big man who hasn't panned out??

If I had to make a choice between Mullens and Kosta Koufos, I would take Koufos in a second. Koufos at least showed some legitimate NBA skills during his time at Ohio State. He had post moves, great touch around the bucket and also could knock down shots from the perimeter. I've never seen Mullens connect on anything besides a dunk or a wide open layup. He's about as raw as you can get for an NBA prospect. A complete blank slate. Maybe he develops into a Brad Miller type player, but I wouldn't bet on it.

One final note on Thad Matta. Apparently Matta did no favors for BJ Mullens with NBA scouts. He openly admits that he told scouts that he couldnt' give a proper evaluation on Mullens because he only played one year at Ohio State.

HUH?? Dear Thad, you recruited Mullens!! Why are you so bitter about this?? Did you really think he wasn't leaving after one year?? Heck, I could have told you that he was leaving after one year, and I've never even met the guy. This is what happens when you recruit "one and dones." They leave after one year, and there's nothing you can do during the year to convince them otherweise. I don't know what Matta thought when he recruited Mullens and Koufos, but he's acted like a complete baby when both of them decided to leave. If he actually thought either of those guys was staying more than one year, then he's not very bright.

Memo to Thad, if you can't handle the world of "one and dones" and AAU coaches and agents, then don't recruit those guys. There are plenty of 3-4 star types out there from the Midwest who would give you four years at Ohio State. All you gotta do is take a look up to East Lansing and see what Tom Izzo has done up there. Stop whining about players leaving for the pros. You have no one to blame but yourself for your roster problems.

Tyler Hansborough -- Without a doubt, the funniest pick of the draft. Are you kidding me Larry Bird??!? I literally spit out my drink when that pick got announced. Nobody loves a white power forward like Larry Bird!!

And then almost on cue, there's Dick Vitale on ESPN screaming about how Tyler Hansborough was the "steal of the draft" and even predicted that Hansborough will be the rookie of the year in the NBA. Hahahahah. Was there even a doubt??! I swear, you could just run a tape of Dickie V every year for the last 20 years, insert the name of the gritty senior veteran from UNC or Duke in there, and you could run the same clip every year. Death, taxes, and Dickie V singing the praises of some four year guy who probably will be nothing better than a role player in the NBA.

Can Hansborough play in the league?? Of course!! I'm driving the bus for the "Luke Harangody is having a 12 year NBA career" bandwagon, so I can support the idea of Hansborough finding a niche. Energy and effort are huge in the league, and you know Hansborough will bring it every night. He'll get his points and rebounds on sheer effort alone. When he's going up against a hungover Zach Randolph in the middle of February, he'll get those loose balls and easy buckets that Randolph won't bother to chase.

I don't think he's the 12th best prospect in this draft, but Hansborough will be all right. He'll hang around and earn a living in the league for a long time. Maybe Indiana just wanted to make sure they got a guy that they trusted to be a top 8 guy on their roster. With all of the potential busts out there in this draft, it's probably not the worst strategy.

With that said, it's the equivalent of the guy who loads up on mediocre veterans in your fantasy baseball draft and finishes in 8th place. If you want to get to the top, you kind of need to take some risks on some guys with upside.

Terrance Williams and Earl Clark -- The Louisville guys are wildcards to me. I could see both of them being productive, but I could see both of them being busts. Earl Clark is talented, but he disappears at times. For a junior, he's too inconsistent. In today's world, a junior should be a dominant player in college, but Clark wasn't really that dominant.

Some quick thoughts on the rest of the draft:

--Love what the Philly 76ers did. Holliday didn't do much at UCLA as a freshman, but you can't ignore that upside. For all we know, he would have come back to UCLA next year and dominated. Definitely worth the gamble. If it pays off, they got a lottery talent at point guard.

--I can't believe how many good values there were in the 2nd round of the draft. I think the 2nd round of this draft was one of the deepest in recent years.

Love some of these guys:

DeJuan Blair - Cmon, Blair got jobbed here. How did he not go in the first round?? He was the best player in the Big East. He DOMINATED Thabeet every time he went up against him. Look at what he did in the NCAAs. He was unguardable. Blair is a warrior. Maybe he doesn't have much height, but he can score and rebound in the NBA. These undersized beefy guys always end up being underrated in the pros. If Jason Maxiell can do it at 6'6", DeJuan Blair can do it. He's got the type of attitude that you want on an NBA roster. He'll be one of the top 15 players in this draft. Mark that down in pen.

Best of all, he ends up on the Spurs!! That is an absolute steal for San Antonio.

Dante Cunningham - Maybe he's a little undersized, but Cunningham was one of the most improved players in America last year. He pretty much carried the load on the interior for Nova all year. I'm biased toward the Big East, but I would be shocked if Cunningham can't play in the league. The only question for him will be staying healthy.

Sam Young -- Are you kidding me?? How he did drop all the way to #36?? I would not have been stunned to see him go somewhere in the top 15. Sam Young can play, and he's a winner. I've watched this guy for four years. He can score, he's tough, and he's versatile. He's the Chris Douglas-Roberts of this draft. The age thing is silly. So what if he's 24?? Does that mean he can't play?? It's not like any of these guys play their whole NBA careers for one team. Heck, I would rather have him as a mature 24 year old who can play than some 20 year old kid who isn't ready for another five years and may not ever pan out.

The Cavs missed the boat by not taking Sam Young. He's the kind of glue guy who could have done some real nice things off the bench for them right away. Instead, they'll be trotting Daniel Gibson out there again next year.

Derrick Brown - Gotta throw some love for the Xavier guy here. This pick might turn out to be a steal for Charlotte. Brown has the ability to be a good swingman in the league. Big fan of Charlotte's draft. Henderson was a nice pick as well. I didn't realize his dad played in the NBA. If your dad played in the NBA, chances are that you'll probably know how to act like a professional.
Dajuan Summers - I know this guy has some attitude issues, but he has always performed well when I've watched him play. The talent is there. I think he was worth the risk in the second round.

Chase Budinger - Could be another gem in the late second round. Budinger really impressed me in the Louisville game. I like his size for a guard, and he's got some athletic ability. I thought he was the best player on the floor in the Louisville-Zona game. If Luke Walton can make it in the league, Budinger can as well.

Also could see guys like AJ Price and Pendergraph and Brockman and Calathes contributing to a roster. This draft is not as bad as people are making it out to be.

--Finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Doesn't last night's pick pretty much sum up the Danny Ferry era?? The guy had all kinds of options for ready-made pros who could come in and give them something off the bench next year, and he ends up taking a project from the Congo. Yo Danny, you got a team that is ready to make the leap into the Finals. Why not get a player who can come in right away and play?? Even if Eyenga actually pans out, it will be 3-4 years before he's even ready to contribute. By then, Lebron might be playing in New York.

Why not take a Sam Young or DeJuan Blair type guy right there?? If you get Young, he immediately becomes the best forward on the team not named LeBron James. Wouldn't he be a great guy to have next year when you're trying to guard Pietrus and Turkoglu and Lewis and now Vince Carter?? Who is going to guard those guys??

If you take DeJuan Blair, he can immediately come in and give you a lift off the bench as a rebounder and low post scorer. The Cavs are going to be trotting out Joe Smith and JJ Hickson off the bench next year. Not exactly a deadly combo inside.

Ferry just doesn't get it. He's one of those guys who means well but never does a good job with the execution part. Take free agency. He had a bunch of money to spend a few offseasons ago and one goal in mind. Find a second banana for LeBron James. Ok, that's fine. But who does he sign with all that money?? Larry Hughes!! It was a good plan but bad execution.

Same with the last two drafts. Ferry has embraced the Spurs model of drafting projects late in the first round with the hope that they'll be real good down the road. Not a bad idea in theory, but he misses the fact that his CURRENT ROSTER has too many needs for him to be doing that. You can only go the project route when you already have a loaded roster. Those projects would just be the icing on the cake. But when you have glaring needs on your bench, you can't take a bunch of fliers on wildcard type guys. Ferry hasn't drafted one decent player since Lebron. Their bench is among the worst in the league because they haven't drafted anyone of quality to contribute.

That's the problem with the Danny Ferry era in a nutshell. He has some good thoughts, but he has no sense of how to build a roster around Lebron. We're in year 6 or 7 of the Lebron James era, and Ferry still hasn't put much around him.

I don't understand why there aren't more people questioning Danny Ferry's credibility to build a championship team. As far as I'm concerned, the Cavs cannot win a championship with Danny Ferry as their GM or Mike Brown as their head coach. Neither of them can give Lebron what he needs.

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