2011 NBA Draft: 20 Key Questions Heading into the Draft
It is a day in which NBA commissioner David Stern reads the names of the future stars of the league. Each player is given a cap with the logo of their new team and they head to the stage to shake hands with Stern.
Other athletes sit at home waiting for their name to get called so they can celebrate with their family and friends. Promising players leave college early if they think their stock is at the highest.
Who will buy into this year's underclassmen?
There are an endless amount of questions surrounding this year's draft and its participants. Here are the top 20 that come to mind.
1. Will There Be a Lockout?
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The NBA and the NBA Players Association have until June 30 to reach an agreement.
The current collective bargaining agreement, or CBA, ends that day and without an agreement the NBA would enter a lockout stage. Players entering the draft are well aware of the situation and realize that there's a strong possibility they won't play next year.
The two sides need to come to terms if they want to keep the league rising as it has been in the past few years. A lockout worked for the NHL, but that's because it was on the decline and the season without it made people realize they were taking the league for granted.
I could be wrong, but a lockout for the NBA could be a catastrophic event for the league.
2. Will Harrison Barnes Leave North Carolina?
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Harrison Barnes finished off a spectacular freshman campaign with a strong tournament run. He and Tyler Zeller helped lead the North Carolina Tar Heels to the Elite Eight, as was expected of them.
Although the Tar Heels failed to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats and advance to the Final Four, they didn't go out without a fight. The Tar Heels battled back from 11 points down early in the first half and tied the game up with three minutes left before falling short.
Barnes is a confident shooter, and that really shows late in games. He may not be the best shooter in the world, but he won't pass up an open look. At 6'8", he is the prototypical height for a small forward in the NBA.
His athleticism isn't resounding, but he makes up for it with strong offensive moves and good technique on defense. If he declares for the draft, Barnes will likely be selected in the top three.
3. Who Will Win the NBA Draft Lottery?
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Thanks to two losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the odds-on favorites to win the No. 1 pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. The NBA Draft Lottery is an event in which the 14 teams that didn't make the playoffs get a chance at a top-three picks in the next NBA draft.
The team that finished with the worst record gets the most balls in the machine and it goes down the line. After three teams are selected—and no team can have multiple picks—the rest of the teams are ranked in ascending order based on wins and losses.
The last time the Cavaliers were given this honor in 2003, they selected LeBron James straight out of high school. Things are a little different eight years later. Players aren't allowed to forgo college to go to the NBA, and there is no player quite like LeBron in the draft pool.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are the team with the second-best chance to see their ball picked first during the lottery. They have never had a chance to be at the top of the draft board in their 21 years participating.
4. Who Will Be Taken First?
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In most draft classes, there is a consensus No. 1 pick. This year is different.
The first selection of this year's draft will depend on who is awarded with the pick. If the Cavaliers win the pick, they will more than likely select Kyrie Irving of Duke.
Irving is a freshman point guard who was leading the Blue Devils in scoring before a ligament injury in his right big toe derailed his season. He returned to the floor for the NCAA tournament in what was supposed to be a limited role.
After two games with small roles, he exploded for 28 points in a Blue Devils elimination loss to the Arizona Wildcats. When he's completely healthy, Irving can do it all. He can shoot, pass and rebound from the point guard position. He's shown that he can make the transition to another level of basketball with little problem.
If the Wolves get the first selection, they will not take Kyrie Irving. They would probably lean toward Derrick Williams of Arizona, the team that eliminated Irving and Duke. Williams had a career-high 32 points in the upset.
Minnesota already has Luke Ridnour and Jonny Flynn on the roster, with Ricky Rubio supposedly coming over from Spain for the 2011-12 season. Williams is a powerful post presence with a seemingly endless list of offensive weapons. He can back players down or hit a fade-away. Williams has the talent to start for an NBA team right now.
Harrison Barnes is a long-shot first pick, but whoever goes first will make their new squad very happy very soon.
5. Where Will Kemba Walker Go?
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As I wrote this, Kemba Walker was in the process leading the Connecticut Huskies past the Butler Bulldogs for the national championship. The win for the Huskies was their 11th straight—and Walker played a monumental part in all of them.
Because he has put his team on his back and carried them to the national championship directly following a five-day magical run to the Big East tournament title, he will definitely be a lottery pick.
Cleveland, Toronto, Sacramento, Utah, Detroit and Houston are all lottery teams that will be looking to pick up a point guard. He's behind Kyrie Irving on virtually every board, but he's the second-best point guard available.
To be honest, Kemba looks more ready to start for an NBA unit than Kyrie Irving.
6. What About Jimmer?
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Jimmer Fredette's Brigham Young Cougars may have been eliminated from the NCAA tournament, but that doesn't take anything away from Jimmer's accomplishments.
Fredette was named the Naismith College Player of the Year—a tribute to his sparkling senior season in which he averaged 28.8 points per game to lead the nation. His impressive scoring performances drew the attention of pro players like Kevin Durant and Steve Nash.
High-scoring point guards are becoming more popular in the NBA, where the pass-first ball handler is becoming more rare. Jimmer can definitely score in bunches, but can he do it at the professional level against better athletes?
Fredette will be a bottom-end lottery pick for one of the teams mentioned in the last slide as needing a point guard. There is a slight possibility he could slide out of the lottery and end up on a playoff team.
7. Will Shelvin Mack’s Stock Rise Because of March Madness Success?
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Shelvin Mack knows what it's like to win pressure games. He helped lead Butler back to the national championship game for the second straight year.
He's a strong shooting guard at the college level who loves to shoot, even when he's not having the best night from the field. Mack will probably be drafted to be a point guard in the NBA because he's only 6'3" tall.
Mack will have to improve his ability to distribute the ball and reduce his shots because he'll likely see reserve minutes for a couple of years. Mack has to improve his all-around game if he wants to be a reputable player in the league.
Butler's success in March may help Mack be selected in the first round, but after that it's all on him and how he develops as a player.
8. Which Morris Twin Will Go First?
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Marcus and Markieff Morris have been well-known across the Kansas campus since they stepped on it together in 2008. The twins have been a dominant force each season,
Back-to-back No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament ended in disappointment, as the Jayhawks failed to reach the Final Four either year.
Marcus Morris seems to be the more NBA ready and versatile of the two twins, leading many to believe that he'll be taken before Markieff. Markieff is limited to the power forward position because of his size, but Marcus can play either small or power forward.
Marcus is a potential lottery pick and Markieff will probably go somewhere around No. 20 to a team like Oklahoma City.
Of all the teams in the draft, the Phoenix Suns have the best potential of ending up with both twins. They likely have a low-end lottery pick and the Orlando Magic's pick from the Jason Richardson/Vince Carter trade earlier this season.
9. Will Three Duke Players Go in the First Round?
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Is there ever a NBA draft without a Duke player to be talked about? How about three?
It may not compare to the 2005 NBA draft, when four North Carolina players were lottery picks, but it's still impressive. This year Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are all possible first-round picks. Irving—as mentioned before—will be most likely be taken in one of the first two picks.
Smith is a tweener player, but has enough talent to be selected in the first round without much question. Singler is the real question in the equation. He is about as close to the edge of the first round as you can get. He would have probably been for sure if he didn't have such a sloppy shooting season.
His three-point shooting percentage was a dismal 32.1 percent after shooting a hair under 40 percent his junior year.
10. Will Two Kentucky Freshmen Be Taken in the Lottery?
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The University of Kentucky also has its stamp on the first round of the NBA draft. Last year, the Wildcats saw five of their players—four of which were freshmen—selected in the first round.
The fact that the Wildcats were competitive this year is a tribute to the incredible recruiting at Kentucky. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, recruit Enes Kanter was ruled ineligible for the 2010-11 season. However, Kentucky still made a run to the Final Four, taking out the overall No. 1 seed Ohio State Buckeyes on the way.
Enes Kanter is still projected to be a top-five pick despite not playing this year. Brandon Knight won't be too far behind after his stellar performance in the tournament. Terrence Jones was the highly-touted recruit for the Wildcats, and even he had an outstanding season.
All three Kentucky recruits could be gone by the No. 20 pick. Luckily, Kentucky knows how to recruit because it can't seem to keep a player for more than one year.
11. Will Josh Harrellson of Kentucky Be Taken?
Talk about a player using the NCAA tournament to raise his draft stock.
Josh Harrellson actually created his stock, as he had none before the tournament started. He flirted with a double-double each time he hit the floor in March. Harrellson actually made most of his noise by doing an impressive job of covering Jared Sullinger in an upset of Ohio State in the Sweet 16.
Harrellson is now a possible second-round pick for teams looking to take a chance on a hard worker. The only reason Harrellson saw so much of the floor was because of the ineligibility of Kanter. Harrellson relished the opportunity, and was one of the most important Wildcats on the floor in March.
Maybe Harrellson won't go on draft day, but I'm sure there's a NBA general manager out there willing to give him a tryout.
12. Which Player Is the Most NBA-Ready?
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Not only is Kemba Walker ready to play in the NBA, he's ready to be a star.
Of all of the players in the draft, Kemba has the skill set that most resembles a guard in the NBA. He can score from the perimeter, but is more comfortable taking the ball to the hoop.
He's become more comfortable off the ball, making hard cuts to get open. This is a skill that most college guards don't truly learn until they arrive to the NBA, but Kemba already has some experience with it. He can take his defender one-on-one and shoot over him, blow by him or pass around him.
What makes Walker great is his ability to take over a game. He has the mindset to know when it's time to take over and keep the ball in his own hands.
13. Which Player Will Be a Bust?
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Some team will take Kyle Singler assuming that his senior season at Duke was a fluke. They are wrong.
Singler looks to me like a one-dimensional player that's lost the confidence in his strength. As mentioned before, Singler shot the ball poorly from behind the arc this season. In the NBA, the three-point shot is three feet longer and that yard will seem like a mile to Singler.
Singler is too slow to be a strong defender at the next level and will likely see his confidence sapped even further when he's not succeeding on either end of the floor. His inability to score in the paint wraps up the tale for Singler, who will struggle mightily in the league.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Singler on an NBDL team before too long, as the team who drafts him will realize that he was a standout in college, but not an NBA-level talent.
14. Who Will Be the Steal of the Draft?
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Jacob Pullen of Kansas State is currently being projected by nbadraft.net to fall deep into the second round.
Pullen got some national attention as a teammate of Michael Beasley when Beasley was a hot commodity in the NCAA. Pullen did not have quite the senior year that people expected him to, and Kansas State struggled to maintain any kind of consistency.
Pullen only stands at 6'0" tall, making his shot theoretically easier to block. I believe people will overlook Pullen, and if he goes undrafted, it's a travesty.
Whoever ends up with Pullen on their roster will see that height isn't everything. A true scorer finds ways to do so no matter who he's put up against.
Pullen is a true scorer.
15. How Many Foreign Players Will Be Lottery Picks?
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If one considers Enes Kanter to still be an international player, there is the potential for four foreign players to be lottery picks.
Kanter is from Zurich, Switzerland, and possesses the strength that most foreign-born players don't. At 260 pounds, Kanter was able to bully his way around in the paint when playing for the World Select Team.
Jan Vesely is a 6'11" Czech player who has the skills and the shot to play small forward. He's trying to work on his post presence because he's likely too slow to guard an NBA small forward.
Donatas Motiejunas is the first of two prospects from Lithuania who could be a lottery pick. Motiejunas is a seven-footer with incredible post skills and confidence that has been compared to Pau Gasol.
Jonas Valanciunas could very well be the first foreign player selected and is the other Lithuanian player in the pool of players. Valanciunas has an incredible wingspan, but it's his unbelievably quick progression that has wowed scouts.
Don't be surprised if you hear all four of these players selected very quickly.
16. Should the New Orleans Hornets Draft a Point Guard?
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The Hornets should be a playoff team this year, so they won't get a shot at the best point guards the talent pool has to offer. The best point guards they'll get a shot at will likely be Shelvin Mack and Nolan Smith.
The Hornets should pass on these options and try to steal either Josh Selby or Jacob Pullen in the second round. Selby is still young and has a lot to learn. Pullen would be the polar opposite of Paul, which could be a problem for the Hornets—but also worth a shot.
Their current backup point guard is Jarrett Jack, who had a great career at Georgia Tech. Jack can be a serviceable point guard to hold the team together if the Hornets decide to go elsewhere with their picks.
No need to panic for the Hornets.
17. Who’s the Best Mid-Major Prospect Not Named Jimmer?
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Kenneth Faried made his name well-known in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The No. 13-ranked Morehead State Eagles upset the Louisville Cardinals behind inspired play by Faried.
Faried was just recently named the Under Armour Defensive Player of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He averaged over 14 rebounds a contest and changed opponents' shots on a nightly basis.
Honestly, Faried will be a better pro than Jimmer will. At 6'8", he's not as tall as teams would like their power forward to be. His understanding of the game and defensive discipline are reasons he'll be a first-round choice.
Faried could even muscle his way into being a lottery pick.
18. What’s the Overall Talent Level of This Draft?
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The second round of this draft isn't going to produce too many gems, but there's a round of quality players to be had.
College basketball failed to produce a dominant team this year. Some people attribute that to a diminished talent pool, but it seems more like there is even more NBA-ready talent than usual.
The 2011 NBA draft may also be criticized for not producing an instant superstar. This year's class is full of players that can be great, but don't seemed destined for stardom. However, many of the top prospects still aren't even 21 years old, meaning that there's still time for them to grow—literally and figuratively.
Give this group a few years and there's bound to be a quantity of players making significant impacts.
19. Which Team Will Be the Most Active in Terms of Draft Day Trades?
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Depending on how the playoffs go, there are a few teams that may want to make some big moves this offseason.
The team that sticks out to me is the Los Angeles Lakers. They are the one of the few teams without a first-round draft pick. It wouldn't be a big surprise if the front office decided to deal two of their three second-round selections for a lower-end pick in the first round.
The Lakers may want to trade up to have a good chance at a young point guard to replace Derek Fisher. Fisher is starting to show his age on the floor and it looks as if he can only come up with his signature clutch performances if he gets more rest.
Fisher needs some time off during the regular season and less minutes in playoff games if he wants to extend his career.
The Lakers should know how to remedy the issue.
20. Which Team Needs the Draft the Most?
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It'd be easy to just say Cleveland needs the draft the most because their record is the worst. Yes, they have two lottery picks and the draft will mean a ton to them, but there's a team that's in comparably bad shape.
The Utah Jazz don't seem to have any direction. They fired Jerry Sloan and dealt Deron Williams in the same season, completely trashing the identity of their squad.
The team doesn't really have an obvious strength and two lottery picks for them are supremely necessary. If the Jazz choose their two players wisely, they could easily be the comeback team of the year in 2012.
The Jazz might be playing a completely new beat after this season. This team won't look remotely the same at the beginning of 2012 as it did to start this season.