Of all the drafts that punctuate the sports calendar, the NBA Draft feels the most relatable. The baseball and hockey drafts are meat markets for players we've never heard of, and the NFL community has doggedly dedicated itself toward convincing the average fan that they don't know enough about football to comprehend their annual selection process (which is a big fat lie of course, but I'll tackle that next April).
The NBA Draft on the other hand is billed as a national game of picking teams. Do you want the quick little guy, or the big bruising guy? It's accessible to the casual fan, especially since the NBA's age limit sent all high schoolers into college basketball.
One of the big advantages of that, is that I don't seem completely unqualified to try my hand at scouting and write a draft Big Board. Good times.
1. Derrick Rose PG Memphis: There was not one game I watched Memphis last year in which Derrick Rose was not the best player on the floor. He took a team of assorted talented parts and wove them together into a wrecking crew.
That's exactly what you're asking your point guard to do in the NBA, and with his athleticism and skills he can dominate the flow of the game in the pros just as well as he did in college. In the modern wide-open NBA, he is going to be an absolute superstar.
2. Michael Beasley PF Kansas State: As a college basketball enthusiast and a Bulls fan, I've had cause to mull over the Rose-or-Beasley quite a lot. Rose is as good as people say he is, and Beasley is too.
There's a tendency to describe all "Who's number one?" debates as Manning-or-Leaf or Bowie-or-Jordan decisions. This isn't one of those. This is a LeBron-or-Carmelo decision. However, several things about Beasley worry me:
-He's only 6'7" and is a true post player.
-He's reliant on physically dominating his opponents, which is much harder to do at the next level.
-He's funny. Like, makes you laugh, charismatic. When was the last time a truly dominant athlete had a wry sense of humor? I'm serious about this, I feel like a sense of irony is a disadvantage for an athlete.
Anyway, all that seems to suggest that I should put him lower than #2. Why do I still feel like he can be a star in the NBA? 26 and 12.
There's NO comparison for a 19 year old putting up a 26 and 12 average in major-conference college basketball. In terms of sheer production, we've never seen anything like this guy.
3. OJ Mayo PG-SG USC: Its a testament to how much of a talent Mayo is that after a year of playing at the wrong position, shouldering the load for a mediocre team, and having his already unpolished game tarnished even further by a god-awful coach, he's still in a position to be taken in the top three.
Mayo is a shoot-first point guard in the mold of a Stephon Marbury, but with a better feel for the game. He's got a great body, he works hard on both ends (do not equate his being unsure of himself without the ball offensively with a lack of effort. Thats the work of Mr. Tim Floyd) and he's a magician when he's got the ball.
At the very worst he's a 20-point scorer who doesn't do much else. If he really puts the work in mentally to understand the flow of the game, look out.
4. Brook Lopez C Stanford: The thing I love about Lopez is the fact that his game translates perfectly to the NBA level. He can post up from 15 feet, turn around an pop a jumper, drive by to the hoop, or kick the ball out and repost deeper in.
PJ Brown doesn't have a shred of Lopez' athleticism, ferocity, or savvy around the rim, and he's been kicking around for years playing the same sort of game. Obviously, any college player no matter how talented is going to need to improve to make it in the the association. But unlike a lot of players, Lopez isn't really going to need to change very much.
5. Joe Alexander SF West Virginia: He's Shawn Kemp. (Take a second to let that soak in.) I know it is blasphemy to compare a white kid born and raised in Taiwan to the Reign Man, but I'm telling you, Alexander has the sheer athletic ability of the young Shawn Kemp.
That was the last time we saw a player who could go from the ground to the rim as quickly, repeatedly, and ferociously as this kid. He's also got that knack of being able to throw it down no matter where and how he leaves his feet.
Too often scouts fall in love with guys because of their sheer leaping ability. Alexander's not a leaper, he's a dunker, there's a difference. He's quite rough around the edges (he didn't start playing basketball until he was around 12 years old) but I don't see how you can pass up on a guy with functional basketball athleticism (as opposed to abstract workout athleticism that gets guys like Marvin Williams taken at the top of the draft) like he's got.
6. DJ Augustin PG Texas: Augustin was a great foil for Kevin Durant during his freshman season and it was widely underappreciated how much he did to get the guy every team who played Texas was gunning for open shots. He took a bit more of the load on himself this season and it showed what a great floor general Augustin is.
He dribbles effortlessly into and out of every spot on the floor and has the vision and quickness to pass to anyone at any time. He's a bit of a liability defensively but its hard to say no to a guy who can control the game with the ball in his hands as well as he can. If he had Derrick Rose's body instead of Luke Ridnour's, he might well be #1 on this list.
7. Danilo Gallinari SF Italy: I was going to put a caveat at the front of this list saying I was ranking all non-European players since I didn't really feel like researching them. I rolled my eyes when I first started seeing Gallinari fly up Chad Ford's draft board, wondering how many 6'9'' swing men there are in Europe. You start to feel like if you were on a bus in Rome or Prague or some other Euro-y place that everyone else on the bus would be Vlad Radmanovich.
Then I watched some YouTube video's of Gallinari. I recommend them highly.
He is a really, really intriguing player. Watching him get steals and dribble coast to coast for slams and drive the lane with a certain coordinated awkwardness (if that makes any sense) reminded me of a player I couldn't quite put my finger on. Then it hit me: He's like Scottie Pippen!
Remember how Pippen played like he really, really wished he was three inches shorter until he got near the rim and then he unfurled (you should never use the words "unfurled" and "Scottie Pippen" in the same sentence, but lets just move on before I get banned from Bleacher Report) his full reach to dunk on a guy? That's what I'm seeing in these videos. If I'm anywhere close to right, Gallinari will be a steal at #7.
8. Roy Hibbert C Georgetown: In any era, at any level, a true center who is the tallest guy on the floor, who can put the ball in the basket, is a matchup problem. Whether its a guy as breathtaking as Wilt Chamberlain or as slow and awkward as Zydrunas Illgauskas, you always have to compensate for a player who can post up and go over the top for a lay-in.
Those players are rare in the NBA these days, so even though Hibbert isn't the most athletic guy and he's probably not going to be the dynamic shotblocker and rebounder teams like in the middle, he's still going to make it tough on the opposing defense every time he steps on the floor and with his passing ability he'll make his offense go like clockwork.
9. Brandon Rush SG Kansas: Why do NBA scouts love to project players doing things they can't do? Rush is a better shooting guard than Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, or Jerryd Bayless, but because all three of them are projected to play the point (which none of them has shown the ability to do) they will get drafted higher. Well I'm not fooled.
Ironic sidenote: If either Rush, Mario Chalmers, or Darrell Arthur had "stepped up" and been "the man" for Kansas last season, that guy would have been a top five pick, and Kansas wouldn't have won the national title. Food for thought considering no NBA team has one guy taking all its shots. I think all three of 'em are underrated pro prospects.
10. Eric Gordon SG Indiana: I hate his guts, but at least he's going to be able to score a lot.
11. Mario Chalmers PG Kansas: Chalmers just gets how to play basketball. Kansas played like a bit of an All-Star team when he wasn't on the floor, no one seemed to know when it was their turn. With Chalmers, they were a well-oiled machine. Obviously clutch as all hell, he's kinda like Chris Paul without the sixth-sense for making ridiculous passes.
12. Jerryd Bayless SG Arizona: If Derrick Rose were from some remote foreign country, and picked up a basketball for the first time in his life today, he would play a lot like Bayless. Still, he does have the pure athleticism of a Rose, and he's young and has time to grow. If someone teaches him how to play a little ball there's a chance he could be pretty good.
13. Kevin Love C UCLA: As much as Jay Bilas wants him to, he's just never going to be an All-Star in the NBA. He is so intelligent that he will make the very most of his skills - this is most evident at the defensive endm where his intuitiveness is a devastating weapon - but unfortunately his skills are Othella Harrington-esque. Still, you put him on a team with some big, long athletic freaks he would be a valuable difference maker. If he and Dwight Howard ever end up on the same team, look out.
14. Darrell Arthur PF Kansas: When you take maddeningly inconsistent players, sometimes you get Rudy Gay, sometimes you get Shawne Williams. Arthur plays a different position obviously, but I have a hunch he might be a Gay. (Come on, you didn't think I would let all three of the Bill Self guys off easy did you?)
15. Richard Hendrix PF Alabama: Leon Powe's excellent performance in the Finals has caused me to reach an epiphany. When a guy is a consistent low post banger in college for a few years who is a team leader and has an NBA ready body, he's almost always a good player no matter what the scouts say. Powe. Big Baby Davis. Jared Dudley. Carlos Boozer. David West. Craig Smith. None of those guys were given their due out of college and all of them have become useful players to varying degrees. Hendrix is next in line.
16. Chris Douglas-Roberts SG Memphis: He's too unique not to succeed. Its like when Byung Hyung Kim set baseball on fire, if nobody's ever seen something before, how will they know how to stop it? Douglas-Roberts made more funny looking shots than any player in basketball last season.
17. Courtney Lee SG Western Kentucky: He can really, really fill it up. I never saw Rodney Stuckey in college, but reading what the scouts said about him, I bet Lee will look just as comfortable making the huge jump from small school to NBA as Stuckey did.
For me, that's about where the good players end in this draft. Recapping some of the other first-round candidates:
Alexis Anjica, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, and Ante Tomic: I've never seen any of them play, and I'm not going to bother watching grainy YouTube videos of them to act like I know what I'm talking about. Gallinari is much more of a known commodity than any of these guys.
Jason Thompson, JaVale McGee, JJ Hickson: I don't watch EVERY college hoops game. Though I've probably seen each of them at some point, I don't really know enough to form an opinion.
Donte Greene: Probably made the worst decision to leave school I've ever seen. He has potential but he is raw as hell and turns the ball over like a madman. I was really looking forward to watching him and Jonny Flynn play together again at Syracuse next year, so out of protest I'm not ranking him.
Russell Westbrook, Robin Lopez, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Randolph, Marreese Speights, and DeAndre Jordan: I'm just not seeing it with any of these guys. Westbrook can't handle the ball, Lopez can't score, Speights is a stiff, Randolph is like 6'9" 110lb, and as for Jordan and Koufos, I have utterly no idea what they CAN do. Color me confused that any of these guys are going to go ahead of guys like DJ White and Billy Walker, who actually seem like complete basketball players.