The 2011 NBA draft could contain the third-worst selection of potential professionals since 2000, but it will only serve as a distraction to the inevitable doom that the NBA lockout will bring come July 1, much like the NFL draft is turning fans away from the mundane and foreboding nature of the NFL lockout.
In anticipation of that time when NBA fans will be gladly distracted from player-owner squabbles, let's break out 15 bold (well, I count 10 bold and five obvious) predictions and a quick mock draft as we gear up for the second round of the playoffs.
Derrick Williams is a guaranteed top-two pick and Minnesota has the best chance to win the No. 1 selection in May. Hopefully Williams does not change climates, because he is a terrible fit for the T-Wolves. Williams is a small forward in a power forward's body, like Michael Beasley except with more bulk, a better head on his shoulders and a more accurate three-point shot.
Where would you put Williams? If Kurt Rambis moves Williams to power forward and Kevin Love to center, both are playing out of position. It's best for the T-Wolves to draft Kyrie Irving or Enes Kanter.
Derrick Williams can do a little bit of everything. He is very explosive for a man his size and will be very difficult to defend against when he posts up down low against small forwards. Don't expect Williams to develop into an elite star, but I like him to be a fringe All-Star for many years.
In particular, I like him a lot in Cleveland to form a potent frontcourt with Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson.
Here's hoping Kemba Walker slides to the Sacramento Kings or Toronto Raptors. Both teams are bereft of leadership on the court, and no better leader can be drafted this year than Kemba Walker, who led a team of 18- and 19-year-olds to an NCAA championship.
Walker may have a small frame, but so did Allen Iverson. Walker may not be the best outside shooter, but neither is Rajon Rondo. Walker is fearless and forms a nice core with DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans in Sacramento. He will also be given the keys to the Raptors franchise right away and whip that team into shape.
NBADraft.net has Fredette going seventh, but that's not happening. Jimmer Haters beware though, because he's going top 10.
Look at the talent that's going back to school: the UNC trio, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones. In this draft, only two point guards will go ahead of Fredette (Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight). Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams are going one-two. Enes Kanter won't drop out of the top five because of his core strength. Of the three internationals (Jan Vesely, Donatas Motiejunas, Jonas Valaciunas), expect at least two to make the top 10.
Three positions left. Maybe Alec Burks and Marcus Morris make it, but maybe teams are worried about Burks' shot and Morris' lack of an upside. Terrence Jones has bust written all over him, and Kawhi Leonard has a ton of question marks. The only other surefire lottery pick is Tristan Thompson, a 6'8" power forward.
I like Fredette to jump over at least three of those question marks.
We've heard projections on B/R saying that Jimmer Fredette is a future perennial All-Star to Jimmer Fredette being a bust.
Put me in the middle. Fredette becomes a good point guard who becomes a top-15 floor general in the NBA.
Enes Kanter is a power forward who offers Amar'e Stoudemire-like versatility, plus a couple inches and more bulk.
Not that Kanter is Amar'e Stoudemire, but he'll be 19 years old next season and be in the top two for Rookie of the Year alongside Kyrie Irving. A team in need of a big man (hello Washington!) would be best served to take Kanter. I love Kanter to the Wizards personally, since the Andray Blatche-JaVale McGee experiment failed miserably.
Expect Brandon Knight to shoot up draft boards leading up to late June. Much like Cam Newton, Knight will pick up steam and be picked in the top five. It's a little premature to say that the NBA is a point guard's league, but with the amount of elite floor generals populating the pros, it doesn't hurt to have one.
Four of the five worst NBA teams from last season need point guards, and with the amount of uncertainty surrounding a few prospects, I like Knight to go in the top five alongside Irving, Williams, Kanter and the winner of the Jonas Valaciunas/Donatas Motiejunas battle.
Speaking of which...
I like Jonas Valaciunas, a 6'11", 240-pound center, to eventually win the international big man battle. Both prospects are pretty raw, but Valaciunas has more polish and is more NBA ready. Donatas Motiejunas has serious problems on the defensive end and that may hinder teams from taking him early.
Kentucky fans, I need an answer to a question.
Terrence Jones, seemingly, has incredible potential and great size for a small forward at 6'8" and 240 pounds. How much of that potential did Jones use this year? I'll go with 50 percent. Josh Harrellson gave 100 percent effort on the court and left nothing on the floor. During the NCAA tournament, I was astounded by Jones' ability to play hide and seek. I always noticed Harrellson; the big man was hard to miss.
Expect Jones to fall no lower than 20 because the talent in the draft is bleak. But look for Jones to bounce around NBA benches for a decade, with some team waiting for him to finally erupt.
No surprise here. Kyrie Irving only made a cameo last season, but there isn't anything the former Duke point guard doesn't possess. Unless the Bucks, Wizards, or Warriors get the first pick, he should go No. 1 and immediately turn a team's fortunes around.
The Knicks need size and energy. Kenneth Faried offers size and energy. The Knicks have two players who need the ball in their hands to dominate. Faried never needs the ball in his hands to dominate.
All hail Faried, the NCAA's greatest all-time rebounder! Billups-Fields-Anthony-Faried-Stoudemire starting lineup with Carter-Douglas-Williams-Turiaf on the bench sounds like 50 wins to me.
Marcus Morris is the most polished Kansas power forward, but Markieff is an inch taller, at least 10 pounds bigger and has a better three-point jump shot. With some seasoning and within the right system, Markieff will be the better Kansas twin, though my bet is on both to become good NBA players for at least a decade.
Jan Vesely currently plays small forward overseas, but the 6'11", 230-pounder can even play power forward with some more time in the workout room. Watch this video and notice the fearlessness with which Vesely dribbles and dunks. He'll have no problem getting to the lane consistently and draws comparisons to Andrei Kirilenko.
Ultimately, I'm not sold on either Valaciunas or Motiejunas making it in the NBA, but Vesely will be a late steal. I'd take him over Terrence Jones or Kawhi Leonard in a second.
Bruce Bowen made a career as a defensive stopper/corner three-point shooter. Chris Singleton can make a career as a defensive stopper/fast-break finisher.
Put another way, Singleton does one singular thing better than any non-lottery pick can do. The best ACC defensive player in 2009 and the runner-up in 2010 will greatly benefit a team in dire need of defensive help off the bench.
Doug Gottlieb tweeted (accessed through Draft Express website) that the best point guards in this draft were Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight, Norris Cole, Charles Jenkins and Kemba Walker, in that order.
Um, no. More like Irving, Walker, Knight, Jimmer Fredette and Shelvin Mack, but Gottlieb led the NCAA in assists in 1999-2000 and I led the Armenian Church Sports Association in fewest minutes played, so defer to him, I guess.
Still, Jenkins was the most efficient offensive player in the NCAA last year and put Hofstra on his back to the CAA semifinals. The same CAA, mind you, which has featured two Final Four teams in the last five years.
Some team will sneak up and take Jenkins, who is 6'3" and 220 pounds, early in the second round or maybe late in the first.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Kyrie Irving
Need plus best player available equals Irving. Derrick Williams is neither.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers: Derrick Williams
Williams easily slots into the small forward role and becomes a danger to defend.
3. Toronto Raptors: Kemba Walker
Raptors need a leader. Walker is their man.
4. Washington Wizards: Enes Kanter
Kanter-McGee 2012! I think he develops into a double-double threat immediately.
5. Sacramento Kings: Jonas Valanciunas
Samuel Dalembert out, Jonas Valanciunas in. Really tempted to put Brandon Knight here, but don't think he'd mesh well with Tyreke Evans.
6. Utah Jazz: Alec Burks
He can't shoot (from deep), but he can score. Better than shooting and not scoring.
7. Detroit Pistons: Brandon Knight
Knight led the Kentucky Wildcats to the Final Four as a freshman. That shows excellent maturity for a 19-year-old. Maybe he can infuse that maturity into a team that desperately needs some.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Klay Thompson
What are the Cavs going to do here? They already have a logjam at point guard and have their starting frontcourt set. But they still need someone who can shoot. Thompson, a WSU shooting guard who scored 21.6 PPG last season, may be their guy. At 6'6", he'll have no trouble getting his shot off on the next level. If I'm the Cavs and find myself here with Burks off the board, though, I find a willing partner to trade with.
9. Charlotte Bobcats: Jimmer Fredette
Look at the advanced statistics: D.J. Augustin is one of the worst starting point guards in the NBA. The Bobcats are also one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA. I like this match here.
10. Milwaukee Bucks: Marcus Morris
Can't see the Bucks making an exotic pick here. They need someone to complement Andrew Bogut, and Marcus Morris is the most proven power forward left.
11. Golden State Warriors: Jan Vesely
He fits in with the team's current personnel at least. Who knows what the plan is after Keith Smart was fired, though.
12. Utah Jazz: Kawhi Leonard
My anti-Terrence Jones bias rears its ugly head. The Jazz take the best small forward available.
13. Phoenix Suns: Markieff Morris
Kind-sorta like Channing Frye, except he isn't soft and has more bulk.
14. Houston Rockets: Jordan Hamilton
Hamilton doesn't leave Texas. He'll start right away at small forward there.
15. Indiana Pacers: Donatas Motiejunas
Best player available. Will he develop into the next Andrea Bargnani? Kind of surprised he fell this far.
16. Philadelphia 76ers: Tristan Thompson
The 76ers get a steal here and Elton Brand's eventual replacement.
17. New York Knicks: Kenneth Faried
New York City will fall in love with a player like Faried, and the Knicks sorely need size and toughness.
18. Washington Wizards: Terrence Jones
At this point, it's hard to ignore Jones, who definitely has the most talent of anyone left.
19. Charlotte Bobcats: Bismack Biyombo
Draft Express is beyond high on Biyombo, who is raw but has physical attributes never seen before. He is 6'9" but stands at a chiseled 243 pounds with a 7'7" wingspan! Charlotte could use more frontcourt help.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves: Lucas Noguiera
A seven-foot center from Brazil with a 7'6" wingspan, Noguiera needs to put on more weight (225 pounds) but he can block shots in the NBA and score putbacks with ease with that crazy length. Would he report to Minnesota from the wonderful weather of Brazil though?
21. Portland Trail Blazers: Justin Harper
As I write this, Gerald Wallace just hit nothing but backboard with an open three-pointer. The combo forward Harper, who broke out in his senior season at Richmond, can fix any three-point shooting woes the Blazers have from the forward position.
22. Denver Nuggets: Trey Thompkins
The 6'10" power forward gets an attempt to replace Kenyon Martin in the lineup. He's the best four available unless teams are high on Jordan Williams or think Tobias Harris is more than a tweener.
23. Houston Rockets: Nolan Smith
A smart team makes a smart move by taking a smart player.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder: Chris Singleton
The Thunder need to pull the trigger on Singleton here. He is a solid defender who would replace Jeff Green in the rotation well, minus the double-digit scoring but plus excellent movement in transition and elite defense.
25. Boston Celtics: Marshon Brooks
Brooks, who led the Big East in scoring as a shooting guard at Providence, stays in New England and offers the Celtics some much-needed scoring punch off the bench. Can he be Ray Allen's eventual replacement?
26. Dallas Mavericks: Shelvin Mack
The two-time NCAA runner-up is brought in to compete for the starting point guard spot with Jose Juan Barea.
27. New Jersey Nets: Tyler Honeycutt
Ugh. I don't like this pick, but the Nets are nearly bereft of talent at the wings.
28. Chicago Bulls: Travis Leslie
A little more athleticism at shooting guard won't hurt for the Bulls.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Tobias Harris
With a shrug, I take the best player available for the Spurs.
30. Chicago Bulls: Keith Benson
Benson, a 6'11" center from Oakland, could be a solid backup for the Bulls if he takes to Tom Thibodeau's coaching well.