The 2011 NBA Draft is shaping up to be a historically bad one. With the uncertainty of a lockout looming, players have been hesitant to declare for the draft. When combined with a class that seemingly loves college, this years draft is in jeopardy.
Three of Chad Ford's top five draft prospects have declared they are going to return to school for another year of college. Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes have consistently expressed their intent to stay in school, while Perry Jones' decision to return was very surprising. These are some of the elite talents of the 2011 NBA draft and it seems as if a lot of this years best players are still going to be on the board next season.
While this is not so good for the NBA, it is certainly great for college basketball. I have to say there is definitely a part of me that wants this to become a trend. While I realize the risk that players take playing four years, and the immediate possibilities of making money they give up, I have been in favor of an increase in the minimum age to enter the draft.
Players are more polished coming out of college, and scouts have more time and a bigger sample size to evaluate from when players decide to play longer that can make for a more complete evaluation. If a new generation of players come in that want to make a difference in college and not just jump right to the NBA, we will see substantially better college basketball. Not only that, but players will be more prepared to handle the NBA when the time comes.
For example, look at the huge jump made by Texas' Jordan Hamilton in his sophomore season. His numbers have improved in just about every important statistical category. He has improved his scoring average by nine points per game and is grabbing four more boards. He has grown quite a bit over the past year, and many players who don't give it a chance could benefit from another year of school.
While this trend could have a positive outcome for future drafts, it will definitely cast a shadow over this years draft in a sense that people thought this draft was weak before everybody decided to return to school. As many as nine of the top-20 players in this years class could be returning for another year of college, making this years field a little rough. Although this years field may not be as competitive as it could have been, at least next years draft class should be excellent.
The teams that got the worst deal in this mess will be the teams picking from four to seven this year. This draft is one of the worst in recent memory; however, that doesn't mean there aren't good players involved. This year I think the top-3 is fairly well defined. Regardless of who wins the lottery, I believe the first three picks will be Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter. While this may not be the ideal top-3, it is clear to me at least that those are the three most talented players.
After the top-3 this draft really becomes a nightmare. There are a couple of foreign players who could vault up the rankings, as well as Uconn's Kemba Walker and Kentucky's Brandon Knight. At this point, we really don't know who is going to go where. It's almost impossible to tell who is better than who after the top-3, as so many of the prospects have major flaws.
Kemba and Knight may not be true point guards. Then we see the contractial issues that come up with the foreign players, and even without these problems international scouting is extremely difficult. You never really know what you're getting when you draft a foreign player in the top ten. He could be a Bargnani, he could also be the next Tskitishvili or Milicic. You just can't be sure.
Past the top ten we see even more struggles. With so many players returning to school, players that were once thought of as late first rounders are turning into mid round picks, and guys that were projected in the second round could move into the mid-20's. A guy that was once thought to be a second round steal is suddenly a sure first rounder. Think Chris Singleton or Justin Harper.
I expect this draft to include more trades than most. The reasoning is that many teams at the back end of the first round, say 25-30, may feel as if no player left is deserving of a guaranteed contract. Other teams may feel like they can pick up a first rounder for cheap.
This line of thinking could cause phones to be ringing off the hook on draft day. Honestly, I don't think it would be out of the question to see the first ever first-round for second-round swap. If a team like the Lakers doesn't feel like they want to pay an undeserving player guaranteed money, they might swap that pick for a future second rounder from a perennial failure such as the Twolves. It may be unlikely, but I wouldn't be surprised.
In this draft, I think we will see an increase in the amount of foreign players taken as well. As I have clearly stated above, the draft is weak. When a draft is like this one, teams may be more inclined to take a flier on an international player. It is risky, but in reality most of these players are just as risky. At the point where there are no safe picks you might as well take a chance.
All in all, I think this draft will certainly keep us on our toes. There will be plenty of surprises, and since rankings are so heavily influenced by personal interpretation more than any other year we've seen, this draft will leave us with more questions than answers. I don't really know what to expect, but the lottery should help us determine the top at least. With the uncertainty surrounding the NBA this off-season, you just never know what can happen.