As is the case with pretty much every draft in every sport, there are differing opinions concerning this year's NBA Draft. While everyone is in agreement that the Los Angeles Clippers will take advantage of their ridiculous luck by drafting Blake Griffin, every other spot is in considerable doubt.
The teams immediately following the Clippers will make decisions that will determine whether they'll be able to compete for a championship in a few years, while teams in the lower third of the first round will either pick a project, a role player or shop their pick.
There are numerous mock drafts floating around, and I'm neither informed nor astute enough to try to make one. However, after looking at several mocks (John Lorge's is a great one, by the way), reading comments and reactions to them, and learning about teams' needs, I've developed several hunches about who (teams and players) will end up as winners and losers in this year's draft.
Oklahoma City: You see that photo at the top of this article, the one where Kevin Durant is guarded by Kobe Bryant? That could very well be a scene from the Western Conference Finals several years from now.
Already stuffed with young players with great potential, the Thunder have the chance to add another one this year. Picking third, Oklahoma City will likely select Ricky Rubio or Hasheem Thabeet, two very different players that could fill two very different needs for them.
If they select Thabeet, the Thunder will get a huge (7'2") center with the wingspan of a golden eagle. From the time he first steps foot onto an NBA court, Thabeet will be a shot blocker of the first order, a game-changing defensive presence that the Thunder have lacked for years (dating back to their days as the Seattle SuperSonics).
If they select Rubio, Oklahoma City immediately improves their offensive game with a teenage prodigy that has skills with the ball few even in the NBA can rival.
While Rubio will have much to learn about the NBA game (namely, when and when not to push the action or force passes), there is no reason to believe that he won't eventually develop into a star point guard.
Either way, Oklahoma City will fill a pressing need in this draft--and fill it with a player they can develop with the other young stars they have.
Sacramento: While they did lose the Blake Griffin Sweepstakes, the Kings do have two picks in this year's first round, including the fourth pick. This class has a very intriguing player on the wing that has oodles of potential: Demar DeRozan.
He is athletic, skilled with the ball and can fill the net night in and night out. After trading away John Salmons and Brad Miller, Sacramento has holes to fill at both small forward and center. They would get a better player on the wing with the fourth pick, with Thabeet already gone, and with the draft being so thin on bigs.
It's not impossible to think that the Kings could take DeRozan, but a likelier scenario might be a point guard like Brandon Jennings; either player would be someone they could groom into an impact player to team with Kevin Martin.
This draft marks the beginning of Sacramento's effort to rebuild their shattered franchise, and here's hoping the fans there have the patience to let the front office try.
Tyreke Evans: This guy is a freak. At 6'5", he's hardly imposing for an off-guard, but his wingspan was measured at an astounding 6'11", and his standing reach of 8'8" makes some big men jealous. Coupled with his good lateral quickness, he has the attributes of a shutdown defender, something that every team in the league is scouring the globe to find.
Evans also is an explosive scorer that can handle the ball very well (thanks to Memphis' style of play), and his vertical game is nothing to sneeze at. His outside game could use a little work, but he can easily change a game just by being what he is--a quick, long athlete that is difficult to guard and even harder to get past on defense.
If his eventual team is committed to teaching him proper defensive and jump-shooting techniques, Tyreke Evans could end up being one of the top three or four players to come out of this draft class.
Los Angeles Clippers: Even though I list them as a winner, I just don't feel right about this team. Sure, Blake Griffin looks like he'll posterize and outmuscle opponents for the next fifteen years, but he's going to be playing for a team loaded with frontcourt veterans, lacking multiple impact wing players, and primed for a conflict between Baron Davis and Mike Dunleavy.
The Clippers have been the model for failure, decrepitude and overall professional wretchedness since before I was born. The front office is easily the worst in the league, and I don't see that changing with the Griffin pick. If he were going to a rebuilding team that would be built around him, I'd say good for the Clips.
But since he's going to a team that doesn't know what direction they want to go in just yet, that currently employs an egomaniac (Zach Randolph) that plays Griffin's position, and that just throws a group of basketball players together and hopes they can somehow succeed...even for Blake Griffin, this job may just be too big.
Washington: When I look at this team, and where they draft this year, I feel nothing but a deep sense of pity. They already have three perimeter players (Gilbert Arenas, Antwan Jamison, Caron Butler) that are very good players, amongst the best at what they do. Those three guys could bring the Wizards to a playoff berth if they stay healthy.
However, Washington desperately, desperately needs a post player. They need someone that can play with their back to the basket, someone that can reliably snag 10-12 rebounds a game, someone they can just dump the ball to whenever Arenas' or Jamison's jumpers aren't falling.
Yet the two players the Wizards are most likely to draft are James Harden and Tyreke Evans...two guys that play the same positions as the three stars I mentioned above. Washington won't find its post answer this year--and time is swiftly running out for them.
New York: All the draft buzz has been about Stephen Curry in the Big Apple. Everyone that I've come into contact with over the past few weeks has the Knicks taking Curry in the draft this year. They look at Curry, and they see the three-point shooter that Mike D'Antoni craves.
I look at Curry, and I see J.J. Redick.
Curry is a drop-dead shooter, and he will see NBA action. However, the Knicks need a point guard that can distribute the ball, and he will never, ever be that type of guy. He's a shooting guard trapped in a point guard's body, and he's not the answer for New York at the point, whatever his connections to LeBron James.
If they do end up taking Stephen Curry, the Knicks will not find the guy they really need to make this team better...but, I think they're just trying to make the team more attractive to LeBron, in the mistaken hope that he'll somehow think he has a better chance to win a title in New York than in Cleveland.
Fours and Fives: It's been well-known that this class is thin on bigs. Everyone that's done a draft-related article has noticed the lack of high-caliber centers and power forwards, with Griffin and Thabeet the only post players reliably projected to go in the top ten picks.
Two players I want to single out are Jordan Hill and B.J. Mullins. Hill, the Arizona prospect, has been the proverbial yo-yo in terms of opinion. Some folks rave about his hustle, defensive activity and underrated rebounding. Other people state that Hill lacks athleticism, strength and overall potential.
All Hill needs is the right team to latch on to. If he's fortunate enough to find a system that suits his skills, and a coach willing to leave him in there long enough for him to make a difference, he could be a productive player.
Mullins' fate is less certain. Once considered a sure-fire lottery pick, the Ohio State freshmen center has fallen off the map due to the dearth of skilled perimeter players and his own discipline problems. Mullins has all the physical tools needed to be a very good center in the NBA, but as is often the case with big men, he seems to lack that drive, the work ethic and desire to be the best that all but the best don't have.
Mullins needs an environment where he can be allowed to grow into the kind of player he's capable of being. He's a very young man—almost as young as Ricky Rubio—and undue pressure would tear apart his fragile psyche.
A smaller market picking in the late teens-early 20s, like Minnesota, Oklahoma City (if they don't nab Thabeet) or perhaps New Orleans, might be the perfect fit for him.
Overall, however, it's a bad year to be a big man.
All comments, corrections, and general "what the hell is this guy on!?" remarks welcome, as usual.