The NBA Draft has always been the hardest to scout, to predict, and to understand. With only two rounds, teams really have to focus in on the players they like and the ones they don't. That can mean reaching, trading out, or trading up, but draft day in the NBA can get a little crazy. Last night was no exception. Without going into "grades" or "winners and losers," I just wanted to express a few things I noticed from last night. Maybe a more appropriate title would be "Things we learned."
The New Jersey Nets Officially Become the Softest Team in the NBA
They say attitude reflects leadership. Well, Lawrence Frank looks like he is a 16 year old caught in the head lights and my grandma could take him in a fight. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2008-09 New Jersey Nets! This is worth mentioning first because the wheels started to come off before the draft even started. Earlier in the day, the Nets traded Richard Jefferson, their ONLY player with any desire to play defense or get tough rebounds, for the ridiculous contract of the perpetually injured Bobby Simmons and second year player Yi Jianlian who is so soft he makes fleece blankets feel like a bed of nails.
New Jersey now has no true small forward and will have to choose between Maurice Ager, Trenton Hassell, or resigning Bostjan Nachbar to START for them at small forward. Then there is Yi and Nenad Krstic at the four, perhaps the softest set of power forwards in the HISTORY of the NBA. Bill Lambier would be licking his chops waiting for this team. At center the Nets have Josh Boone or Sean Williams to pick from, both of whom are athletic and can blocks shots, but neither of whom would break the rotation on a contender. And oh yeah, Vince Carter is still starting on your team despite his propensity to play when he feels like it, sabotage his team for his stats, and overall be a cancerous teammate.
To make matters worse, the Nets go out and draft Brook Lopez, who got his shot blocked by a television announcer in a pre-draft workout and who barely got 8 rebounds a game as a 7 foot 260 pound center. The 6'11'' jump shooting Ryan Anderson from Cal was next. Apparently one team can't have too many players without a position, particularly on the defensive end. The name Pat Garrity comes to mind.
Chris Douglas-Roberts in the second round was the only move that made for a team who needed a 3, and CDR is really just a long two and will likely never be a real starter.
Congrats New Jersey, enjoy a steady dose of Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal, Chris Bosh, Eddy Curry on the block. Even the Knicks think you're soft.
Once the draft started, the first eight picks were not surprising, even anti-climactic. We come to expect strange things from the top of draft boards, but things essentially went the way we thought with the exception of Russell Westbrook at four (Chad Ford correctly predicted that however. That's why he gets the big bucks, and I just have a blog). Each play in the top eight went to great situations and the GM's, even Chris Wallace, did a great job. More on that later.
Blazing Through the Draft
With the 13th pick and a team loaded with young talent, the Blazers were all but certainly going to trade out of the lottery to get a veteran player...or so was the popular thought process. The Blazers got a tremendously talented shooting point guard in Jerryd Bayless and while they traded away the rights to Darrell Arthur, they got Ike Diogu from the Pacers in the Bayless trade, and the two are similar players. The Blazers also got Nicholas Batum from France who was thought to be a lottery pick entering the season, but a disappointing year in Europe coupled with questions about his health dropped him to the bottom of the first. The Frenchman has outstanding athleticism and a game that looks like Rudy Gay's at times with his long, lean, frame and his explosiveness. Not having to be the primary focus on offense will mean Batum can get out on the break and finish, playing a hustle game while the rest of his skills develop.
Second is the Best
With all the talk about the No. 1 pick and Rose/Beasley, the Miami Heat had probably the best draft of any team last night. They got the most NBA-ready player, the most talented player, and the play with the most potential. Rarely do all those things coincide and you get that player anywhere but No. 1. Pat Riley's hesitations not withstanding, Beasley has all the tools to be a star in South Beach assuming he comes home before 2:00 a.m. most nights. But it wasn't just Beasley. The Heat traded two second round picks to get Kansas point guard Mario Chalmers at 34, which was a steal given that many thought he could go as high as 11 to Indiana or 12 to Sacramento. He brings toughness and defense along with a great jumper, plus big-time experience. The Heat's other second round pick gives the Heat one of Chalmers running-mates at Kansas, underrated prospect Darnell Jackson who will give the Heat another big body inside.
Beasley the Example and Counter-Example for 19+ Rule
Michael Beasley's game was ready for the NBA, absolutely no doubt about it. He could be a 20 and 10 guy from the three or four and could be a lefty version of Carmelo Anthony only better defensively if he chooses. But Beasley is as immature as a person that teams wondered about how he will handle the pressures of being an NBA player. Recent history doesn't give us such an overt example of such a paradox because none of his altercations off the court were criminal. He doesn't have illegitimate children and doesn't hit women, abuse drugs, or alcohol that we know of.
He's just a 19-year-old who wants to be 19. If he went back to Kansas State and blew out his knee, he'd be lucky to go in the top 20 in the first round, probably surrendering millions of dollars in salary and endorsements. But if he goes to Miami and the parties, women, and sins of South Beach distract his game, he might never reach his full potential. That is what makes this rule so hard. I have been a proponent of the 19+ rule, and even suggested we extend it to make it 20 or two years of college basketball. We had more college freshman taken in 2008 than ever before and just about all of them figure to get serious run this year.
Maybe NBA teams ought to simply have better rookie mentoring programs. Or maybe GMs ought to realize they need to have strong leaders on their team willing to work with young players and teach them the way to be an NBA player. The Heat has the best talent in the draft, and it is up to them to make sure he follows through on all that talent. If the age rule isn't increased, then hopefully it will spur NBA franchises to become more responsible with their rosters, facilitating the growth both on and off the court of their players.
A New NBA
Could it be that NBA GMs are finally turning the corner? While there were a few teams without picks of any kind (Denver, Atlanta, New Orleans) and several teams with only one, almost every team really got value for their picks and improved their rosters.
The Bobcats weren't great, adding another undersized point guard, and French prospect Alexis Ajinca hasn't proven anything in Europe despite his massive frame. The Pistons didn't have a first round pick, but with three seconds didn't really got anyone who figures to be in their top eight next season.
People are getting on the Kings case for "reaching" for Rider bigman Jason Thompson, but he is a huge body is the best inside scorer in the draft when you consider size, strength, and experience.
I wonder how much San Antonio really helped themselves with IUPUI guard George Hill or either of their second round picks. On the other hand, this is the team that put together a perennial contender through the draft, who am I to criticize.
Best of all though, it appears some of the NBA's more downtrodden franchises of late seem to be reloading. Memphis, Minnesota, Seattle, Milwaukee, and the other Los Angeles all got significantly better through the draft which is encouraging given many of the problems these franchises face is a result of poor drafting and personnel evaluations. Which brings me to:
The End is Near
Draft night did have one of the largest garbage trades in history, and no surprise Kevin McHale and Chris Wallace were involved. Minnesota sent O.J. Mayo, Antoine Walker, Greg Buckner, and Marko Jaric to Memphis for Kevin Love, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, and Jason Collins. There are eight players in that trade and at BEST three are solid rotation players, only Mayo has star capabilities.
The strange thing? The trade works for both teams. The Wolves get a big man who can work inside with their man-child Al Jefferson, plus find Mike Miller for threes, and get 'Bassy Telfair the ball on the break. Memphis gets the third best player in the draft, a true shooting guard to play along side their talented point guard platoon, plus a guy who can shoot lights out from deep and defend, something Mike Miller could not do. A trade between Chris Willace and Kevin McHale that makes sense for both teams?
You may want to start buying canned goods and bottled water.
Not enough proof? Everyone killed the Grizzlies for sending away Pau Gasol for basically nothing, but with that extra first round pick, Memphis was able to get the third best player in the draft, plus a top 15 player way down at the bottom of the first round. Darrell Arthur could start the Grizz at the four next year and has All-Star potential while OJ Mayo WILL start for them next season next to Mike Conley. With all those guys, Memphis can now trade Kyle Lowry or Javares Crittenton for another big and Memphis could actually field a pretty competitive squad in 2008.
Ok, now it’s time to build an underground bunker.