I have a theory about the NBA Draft Lottery. It's a theory that's not new, or anything groundbreaking. However, it involves an insidious commissioner and a series of intriguing lottery victors. Wait, that sounds too much like my next basketball/mystery novel "Bouncing Balls: The Game Behind the Game.
In all seriousness, though, the Cleveland Cavaliers were the team who hit it big in this year's version of the NBA Draft Lottery. After an offseason in which they lost the best player in the history of their franchise, Cavs fans needed something to make them feel better about renewing their tickets, and...
OK, I'll stop with the consipracies. With the draft order having now been set in concrete, it's time to do a proper NBA Mock Draft. The Cavaliers obviously were the big winners, receiving the first and fourth overall picks this year. Were they really winners, though? This draft class seems to be weak at the top, but filled with several solid athletes who may make careers as role players.
The question is: Where will those athletes end up? That's a question that I aim to answer with my crystal ball, tarot cards and computer.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, fresh off of a horrible season that capped an even worse offseason, need to head in a new direction. A lot of people have been remarking that Derrick Williams makes sense as a replacement for LeBron James. I don't buy into that philosophy. I think that in this weak draft, Cleveland has to get the best available player, and in my eyes, Duke point guard Kyrie Irving is clearly the best prospect.
Ramon Sessions, Baron Davis and Daniel Gibson are still on the roster, but none have the long-term potential that Irving has. Kyrie missed much of his one and only season at Duke, but he showed enough flashes to make me think he's got some Chris Paul in him. He's quick, he's cerebral and he has an innate ability to know when to attack and when to get his teammates involved. It may take a couple seasons for Irving to become a true star, but in the meantime, he can play spot minutes behind Sessions, who is a very competent PG in his own right.
The Timberwolves are in a tough position at number two. They have solid young players at nearly every position except center. Almost any player they could feasibly draft here would create a further logjam. I'm also not convinced that any players in this draft could unseat anyone currently on their roster. I think the Wolves should try to package this pick with something else for some veteran help. Still, this a mock draft, and I refuse to mock trades. It's not as fun.
If Kyrie Irving were to slip to them, they could wash their hands of the Ricky Rubio situation, although they might still think Rubio has some potential. I want to put Enes Kanter here, but I think he's more of a power forward than a true center, and Minnesota already has Kevin Love and Anthony Randolph. I think they'll just take the best player available, versatile forward Derrick Williams out of Arizona.
Williams seems like he could be a more efficient version of Michael Beasley. He's got a nice inside-outside game that allows him to play the 3 or the 4. I think his versatility will help him see immediate minutes, but I wouldn't expect a big impact from him until Minnesota clears some room to get him significant time on the court.
The Jazz fell just short of getting a player they could really use in Derrick Williams, but they've still got to be happy with receiving the number three pick. I have to reiterate that this is a weak draft class overall, however. They could really use a wing scorer, but with none really worthy of a top three pick, I think they'll go with PG Kemba Walker from UConn.
Before the NCAA Championship run of Connecticut, fueled mostly by Walker, I would have never mocked the point guard this high in the draft. However, Kemba proved time and time again that he was clutch and was the quiet leader of his squad. That said, I don't foresee Walker becoming an All-Star in the league. I think he could be a nice player, but the fact that he could be drafted this high is a testament to the overall lack of top-flight talent in this year's draft.
My problem with Kemba is that he's a volume scorer who isn't always very efficient. You could say the same things about Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, I know, but Walker relies more on his jumpshot than either of those guys, and he's much smaller. His best situation would be as scoring spark off of the bench or as a piece of an offense that doesn't require the PG to handle the ball as much (see Los Angeles Lakers).
The Cavaliers rebuilding project seems to have been made much easier by the draft lottery. They could use help at virtually every position, and with Kyrie Irving already on board, I think they'll go big with Enes Kanter from Turkey.
Kanter was supposed to play for the University of Kentucky this year, but was ruled ineligible due to having received funds in excess of $33,000 while playing for a professional basketball team in his home country of Turkey. Still, he has remained with the school as a student assistant coach.
Perhaps because of the fact that he did not play this past season, I think Kanter has become the most underrated prospect in this draft. He's a big man who can hit 15-foot jumpshots, runs the floor well and has very good hands around the basket. Like most players in this draft, I don't foresee him becoming a perrenial All-Star, but I do think he could give the Cavs very solid production. He's not as soft some might think coming from overseas. Kanter possesses a toughness about him and has a solid post game. He's not extremely athletic, so I don't know how great of a rebounder he could be, but I think he'll be an excellent scorer.
I could see Irving/Kanter pick-and-rolls becoming a staple in Cleveland.
Three PG's in the top five? That's how it seems to have shaken out in this mock draft, as I have the Raptors selecting Brandon Knight from Kentucky.
The Raptors, like the Cavs, already have a couple solid point guards on their roster, but I don't think they'll pass up on the raw talent of Knight. Calderon is getting up in age a little, and Jerryd Bayless hasn't been consistent enough to stay on the court. I think the Raptors are trying to get younger and more athletic, and Knight fulfills those demands. He's extremely athletic and hit a couple clutch shots in the tournament. Perhaps more importantly, I think he will mesh very well with DeMar Derozan and Andrea Bargnani.
The Wizards are boasting new uniforms for a new era with electric John Wall at the point. I think the franchise also believes they have a couple of keepers in SG Jordan Crawford and C JaVale McGee. Continuing to build through youth, I think the Wiz will take Jan Vesely from the Czech Republic.
I believe Vesely will eventually turn into a poor man's version of Danilo Gallinari. I don't think he's got the upper-body strength of Gallo, but he might be faster in the open court, which will work very well when he's playing alongside Wall.
Washington fans might not be a huge fan of this pick because Vesely may not be NBA-ready at the moment. This team is simply not ready to compete for the playoffs yet, and stockpiling young talent seems like the right thing to do for a few years before making a serious move towards contention.
Hear me out on this one: The Sacramento Kings are a team currently trying to get a deal for a new stadium. They had trouble selling tickets last year. Their biggest need by far is at point guard. These are the three logical reasons that I have the Kings selecting the ultra-popular Jimmer Fredette at No. 7.
I don't believe anyone's mistaking Fredette for Steve Nash, but the kid is talented. I think the stigma comes from the fact that he's a white player who played all four years of college basketball, and his specialty is making long-range bombs. However, Jimmer is a much better ball-handler than people give him credit for, and he has infinite range from 3. Playing alongside Tyreke Evans—who can be a great distributor at times—also will afford him the ability to play off the ball and come around screens.
Sacramento is one of the few places that I feel like could maximize Fredette's abilities, and he also works as a ticket-seller for a beleaguered franchise.
The Pistons have a roster filled with overpaid swingmen who will slowly be phased out. In the meantime, I have to believe they will continue to rebuild their once great front-court. Greg Monroe seems like a great pick right now, but he's not a great defender. To shore up the post defense, I have the Pistons taking a chance on PF Bismack Biyombo.
Biyombo is a prospect that many have not yet heard of. He's a large athlete with a freakishly huge wingspan and amazing athleticism. Despite his youth (he's currently 18 years old), I actually think Biyombo could come in and have an impact right away because of what he does well: rebound, block shots, play tough defense and show tenacity on the offensive end. In a few years, I think Biyombo is something like Ben Wallace with a much more advanced offensive game.
While there may be some top-flight international talent available here, I don't think Michael Jordan will bite. I think he'll make the typically confusing MJ pick that leaves you scratching your head. No offense to Tristan Thompson, but I think he'll be that player.
Thompson is sort of a poor man's Tyrus Thomas (still under contract with Charlotte). He's somewhat undersized for a power forward, but he's got a 7'2" wingspan and hops. He'll do the little things you'll look for in any player, but I don't think he'll grade out to anything more than a decent bench player.
Kawhi Leonard may be the best player still available on the board, and Scott Skiles' coached teams seem to always draft in that direction. Leonard is also possibly the best fit available for Milwaukee. Leonard is the type of player who's not afraid to do the dirty work. The Bucks biggest problem last year was that they seemed soft defensively on the perimeter. Leonard will help shore that problem up.
Donatas Motiejunas is a 7-footer who can create his own shot. He's thin at this point and needs to add some weight. His skill set fits in very well with the Warriors run-and-gun philosophy, though. Montiejunas has deceptive quickness and is very adept at running up and down the court.
Like many European players who come to the NBA, he may require some time to transition to the more physical American game, but once he does, Donatas has the potential to be a very dangerous scorer.
With Kemba Walker already on board, the Jazz will look to add a versatile wing player. Alec Burks fits that need. While he's not a great defender and lacks a consistent three-point shot, Burks has a talent for getting to the basket, and is an exceptional creator for others. Such a talent could prove useful if he were to be paired with Walker.
Jordan Hamilton has a game that seems as though it will compliment Steve Nash very well. He has the potential to be a 20 points-per-game scorer, and Nash might be the only one who could bring that potential to fruition. Even if Nash doesn't remain in Phoenix, Hamilton makes sense as a replacement for Grant Hill and/or Vince Carter.
Yao Ming isn't getting younger and isn't going to magically become less injury-prone. Jonas Valanciunas is a developmental prospect at center who could one day replace Yao. He's got very nice length, but he's extremely skinny and doesn't have much skill outside of making easy layups. However, many scouts love the kid's potential, and with Yao, Chuck Hayes, Brad Miller and Hasheem Thabeet on the roster, the Rockets could afford to let him develop overseas for a few years.
Jonas does have contract issues that could prevent him from coming to America immediately, but Houston has proven in the past that this does not dissuade them from taking players they feel are talented.
Tyler Hansbrough showed a lot down the stretch in the regular season and into the playoffs, but the Pacers still have a pretty thin rotation of big men. Marcus Morris isn't going to be the savior who makes Indiana a legit contender, but he's got a nice set of skills that will allow him to play either forward position in the NBA. I think he'll end up being a nice high-energy role player off of the bench for Indiana.
Kenneth Faried is the best overall rebounding big in this draft. He's drawn comparisons to Dennis Rodman. While I'm not sure he's going to put up the same rebounding numbers as Rodman, I do think he could be a valuable piece on a contender. Philly is a young athletic team who could use some help on the board. I think Faried fits that description to a tee.
The Knicks are clearly a flawed team who are going to require a third superstar to be truly competitive in the playoffs. There's not much they can do here in the draft as far as finding an immediate remedy goes, but they could still use some depth down low. There aren't any future All-Stars remaining, but Markieff Morris is exactly the kind of hard-nosed player that New York fans will appreciate. I think he's a rich man's version of Shelden Williams.
Klay Thompson is an excellent shooter from the perimeter who will look great catching the drive-and-dishes from John Wall. He's not necessarily a one trick-pony, though, as Thompson has some ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the hoop.
The Bobcats continue to look for athletic players, and I think they will get a steal in Chris Singleton. Singleton is a combo-forward who is an outstanding defender. He uses his outstanding size and athleticism to his advantage, allowing himself to grab rebounds, defend any position on the court and catch alley-oops. Last season, Singleton also seemed to improve his perimeter shot as well. I believe he has the potential to be a very solid starter in the NBA.
Darius Morris is the kind of PG the T-Wolves don't currently have on their roster: one who can get to the basket and either finish or create shots for others. Ricky Rubio has looked terrible in Spain lately and may not ever come over. Jonny Flynn has shown an inability to get on the court because of injuries and inconsistencies. Luke Ridnour simply isn't the long-term answer. I'm not sure what to think of Morris, because he only produced for one season on an overachieving Michigan team. I wouldn't expect him to pay immediate dividends, but he has the potential to be a nice player in a league filled with bigger, athletic point guards.
Andre Miller isn't getting any younger, and with a serious lack of depth behind him, I think Portland would like to address the point guard position through the draft. I think Nolan Smith is one of the few players from this draft who will be able to start immediately if needed. He's not the most naturally gifted player, but he's a feisty defender, solid scorer and all-around high-IQ player that will fit in right away.
Another international selection, as Denver selects Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira. I know it seems kind of improbable considering the Nuggets already have perhaps the best Brazilian center to ever play in the NBA, but Nogueira is actually an intriguing prospect here. Behind Nene is Chris "Birdman" Andersen, who is aging and limited. Nogeuira—while he may not be polished enough just yet—has a gigantic wingspan and can block shots. If he's given time to develop, he could be special.
The Rockets always seem to draft well, and I think that getting Tobias Harris would fit in nicely with their draft history. He's a wing player with the ability to score inside. I think he's making a mistake coming out early, but he definitely has the talent, size and ability to finish around the basket to be a starter in the league eventually. Houston has the depth to give him time to develop, and yet it's not as though Chase Budinger couldn't be unseated sooner rather than later.
With really no glaring weaknesses, I have a feeling OKC may trade this pick for future picks or cash, but if they do decide to keep it, I could see them going with a young international prospect like Davis Bertans. Bertans seems to me like a three-point shooting one-trick pony, but he is 6'10" with great length. He gets a lot of height on his shots as well, making them almost unblockable. He could be stashed overseas for a couple years while he works on his game and adds a bit of bulk. The Thunder are a team that can afford to wait.
The Celtics are an aging team who could use youth at all positions except seemingly PG, but they definitely lack depth in their front-court. Shaq O'Neal's status for next season is unknown, Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O'Neal aren't getting any younger, Nenad Krstic is a free agent and Glen Davis forgot to show up for the playoffs. Maryland big Jordan Williams isn't a great prospect, but he's got size and a large body. He will hustle and has some ability to score with his back to the basket.
Continuing to build through versatility on their bench, I think the Mavs will take athletic PF Justin Harper, who was a one-man wrecking crew in this year's NCAA tournament. Harper can shoot from the perimeter and put the ball on the floor. Working behind Dirk Nowitzki will also allow him to survey how the greats do it and may even help him later in his career.
Josh Selby is an undersized two-guard. He may have to play point in the NBA. However, he has an innate ability to score and gets to the basket pretty consistently. I think he probably translates to a scoring spark off of the bench as a professional. He has some immaturity issues, but I think those will dissipate with a pretty mature group around him in New Jersey. Playing alongside Deron Williams could also open up easier shots for Selby.
I think Kyle Singler is one of the lowest-risk players in the draft this year. He's not really spectacular in any facet of the game of basketball, but he'll give you effort on all ends of the floor and provides a lot of versatility. His leadership qualities and overall attitude towards the game will fit in nicely with Chicago. I think he can be a solid 10th man on a contender, and that would be a nice niche to find with the Bulls.
With Tony Parker seeming like he wants out of San Antonio and an aging roster, the Spurs can no longer afford to go with international prospects who they can stash overseas. Instead, I think they'll go for a guy like Reggie Jackson, a guy who's either overrated or underrated, depending on who you ask. I think he'll be a defensive specialist in the NBA, and the Spurs have lacked a stopper at the point since Avery Johnson.
Trey Tompkins is another one of those players who I think you know what you're getting: a faceup 4 with some solid ballhandling ability. He would simply add versatility to a Bulls roster that doesn't have a player quite like him. He'd probably be buried on the Bulls deep depth chart, but in time, he could provide meaningful play off the bench.