When the Ping-Pong balls stopped bouncing, the Los Angeles Clippers won the 2011 NBA draft lottery. Then, they subsequently lost it.
Having traded their first-round pick to Cleveland in the middle of the season as enticement to take on Baron Davis' contract, the Clippers pick ended up giving Cleveland two selections in the first four picks of this year's draft. In a draft class that some people are calling the weakest in the history of the lottery, the top two picks were hot commodities.
This mock draft will run through the first round, showcasing teams that will be overly pleased with their spot in the draft as well as teams that are in a tight spot.
Even though Duke point guard Kyrie Irving didn't even play a full season of college basketball, what he showed scouts was enough to make him one of the best pro prospects in the 2011 draft. Irving has game-changing speed, not unlike Chris Paul, and the court vision to pick out holes in a defense. He's young, but his learning curve in the NBA will be fairly flat and Irving will prove to be worth this pick.
The second choice in a draft with two consensus top talents, Derrick Williams will make a great fit in Minnesota. At 6'8", he can play a big 3 or a small 4, and with the co-existence of Kevin Love on the roster, Williams and Love can pair up to provide a solid low-post presence. Minnesota will certainly have to hope for Ricky Rubio to become available soon to create a young core that could compete in the West.
It's no secret that the Jazz need guard help. After Devin Harris, who came over in the Deron Williams trade, Utah's guards are Raja Bell, Ronnie Price and Earl Watson. That's it. Knight is a raw talent who will need some guidance early on, but he and Harris could seemingly work together and be combo guards in the same offense.
The above image shows what could have been for the Kentucky Wildcats this past season. Kanter was expected to come in and be a major contributor as a freshman, but the NCAA ruled him permanently ineligible. Over the past year, Kanter has been waiting for the draft to come, and he'll fall into a decent situation with Cleveland picking up Irving with the top pick. He'll have to work his way into the frontcourt rotation, but speculation suggests that Kanter could nudge Anderson Varejao out of the 5.
The Raptors have a glut of young names in the frontcourt but no one who really jumps out as a game-changer. At 19, Valanciunas has shown prowess for his national team as well as in Eurobasket and recently hired legal aid that could help him buy out of his contract, which has three years left on it, sooner. Even if he can't come over immediately, Valanciunas has talent worthy of the fifth pick, and Toronto can afford to let other players try to develop in his absence.
Leonard became a household name this year as he and BYU's Jimmer Fredette propelled their respective teams to top-10 rankings and national television appearances. Only a sophomore, Leonard showed the skills to play both inside and outside. With the Wizards set at the point with John Wall and at center with JaVale McGee, Leonard can come in to learn from Josh Howard and either take over during the 2011-12 season or starting in 2012-13.
If there's one thing that the Sacramento Kings learned over the last year, it's that Tyreke Evans is not a point guard. That problem is fixed by drafted Kemba Walker. Walker was the driving force behind Connecticut's 11-game winning streak that propelled the Huskies from the No. 9 seed in the Big East tournament to a national championship. He has a flair for the dramatic and a sweet shot and can create a deadly duo in the Sacramento (future Anaheim?) backcourt.
Some people feel that Jan Vesely or another big man would be the choice here to begin replacing Ben Wallace, but the Pistons have young frontcourt talent in Greg Monroe and Charlie Villanueva. Singleton, however, fills a decided void at small forward for Detroit, bringing size and a shot to the 3.
Jan Vesely could progress to be a sort of Dirk Nowitzki light. A 6'11" power forward with a stroke from deep, Vesely can bring a much-needed scoring touch to the Charlotte offense. Hopefully, he can turn out to be a good pick and one that the Bobcats don't end up trading down the line.
John Salmons is not a long-term answer in Milwaukee. Alec Burks can be. Burks is clearly the best pure shooting guard in the 2011 draft, which does say something about the weakness of the class, but also says something about Burks. He'll get to learn from Michael Redd and slowly work his way into the Milwaukee rotation to team up with young point guard Brandon Jennings and try to bring Milwaukee back to the playoffs.
This is certainly the first major reach in this mock draft, but with the future of Monta Ellis in Oakland uncertain, a shooting guard is a good pickup for the Warriors. Klay Thompson is still on the board here, but Brooks' touch and speed fit Golden State's style of play and could help Warriors fans forget about Ellis if the franchise has to trade him or let him walk.
As mentioned before, the Jazz need guards. Klay Thompson doesn't fit Golden State's tempo, but he'd fit nicely into Utah's scheme. He's a good spot-up shooter and has the size to play a small 3 if needed, so the Jazz could run with Brandon Knight, Devin Harris and Thompson at times. Although they may have been looking at Brooks, the Jazz would be more than happy with Thompson.
Jimmer Fredette is practically sculpted in the mold of Steve Nash. An underrated point guard from a mid-major with a nose for the net and the ability to spread the ball around. Although Jimmer Fredette certainly did more scoring than passing at BYU, his game can be tweaked to fit the NBA and he can succeed in the Phoenix offensive system.
The Rockets are certainly pressed for young, skilled big men, and Motiejunas can bring something to their offense from day one. Only 20, the seven-footer can provide support or simply fill in for Yao Ming while learning the trade of playing on the low block in the NBA. Motiejunas was considered the top international prospect early in the 2011 draft discussion; if he pans out, he could be a big steal at the end of the lottery.
By way of Spain, the Congolese phenom was recently considered to be a top-10 pick but has seen his stock fall. One of the youngest players in the draft at 18, Biyombo is certainly one of the bigger projects in the draft, but he has major upside. Indiana currently has Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough at power forward, but Biyombo has time to learn—either in Indiana or Spain.
The fall for Tristan Thompson ends at No. 16 as the Sixers draft the heir to Elton Brand. Thompson brings a fierce game for a smaller power forward and will certainly learn from the similarly sized Brand. If Thompson does make it this far, Philadelphia might trip over itself trying to get the card to the commissioner.
The Knicks drafting Jenkins would be the ultimate New York feel-good story. Jenkins is a product of the New York City public school system, and attended Hofstra on Long Island, where he was regarded as one of the best players in or around the city during most of his collegiate career. The Knicks are in the market for a future point guard with Chauncey Billups either being traded or released after the upcoming year, and Jenkins can score like few other point guards in this draft. He's a great fit for the Knicks system.
Nuggets trade the 22nd pick, SG J.R. Smith and cash to the Wizards for the 18th pick, a second-round pick in 2013 and F Larry Owens.
Everyone wins here. The Nuggets move up to fill a need with the best power forward remaining and the Wizards pick up much-needed help at the 2. Morris would be a huge help to Denver, as it had trouble dealing with the physicality of the Thunder during its first-round series. Morris can score and rebound very well and would fit in great with the Nuggets.
Having just missed Chris Singleton before their first pick of the draft, the Bobcats upgrade at small forward anyway with Jordan Hamilton. He averaged just over 18.5 points per game last year under Rick Barnes, and has the size to flex to the 4 if he needs to. Hamilton and Jan Vesely would be a solid draft pair for Charlotte.
Even though the T'Wolves have a dominant power forward in Kevin Love, drafting Markieff Morris would help them deal with their weakness at center. Love and Morris could trade off playing a few feet from the basket and in the low block. Both are 6'10" and built and could cause some matchup problems with the athleticism they'd bring to the Minnesota frontcourt.
Rip City would be enamored to have the NCAA's career leader in rebounding to rip down boards night in and night out for the Trail Blazers. Faried is a fierce rebounder and would let LaMarcus Aldridge play center more often for Portland with Marcus Camby not getting any younger and Greg Oden's knees seemingly not getting any less injured. Faried would be a welcome addition to the Rose City.
Pick from Projected Trade with Denver
After picking up Kawhi Leonard with the sixth pick and J.R. Smith in the projected trade with Denver, Washington bulks up with Serbian small forward Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic is currently playing with Real Madrid and could benefit from an extra year in Spain, but his size and shooting ability would certainly help Washington immediately.
The Rockets are the sixth team to have two first round picks, and they pair the the size of Donatas Motiejunas with the athleticism of Josh Selby. The Rockets have Kyle Lowry at the point right now, but Selby brings a larger frame and a more physical style of play than Lowry. Both are good options for Houston to have.
It's certainly safe to say that Kevin Durant is one of the best players in the NBA today. Still, the best players can't play 48 minutes a night. Tyler Honeycutt would not only give Durant a chance to rest, it would also give Scott Brooks another option to shake up the size of the lineup, putting Durant at the 2 or 4 with Honeycutt at the 3.
Fun fact: The Celtics really missed Kendrick Perkins at the end of the year. Jordan Williams has been reshaping his body during the months leading up to the draft and would be a great fit with Doc Rivers. Williams would get a chance to learn from some of the best players in league history before taking over the starting center job in Boston.
Harris may have taken a hard fall in this mock, but Dallas is more than happy to snap him up late in the first round. The only other power forward currently listed on the Mavericks roster is none other than Brian Cardinal. If Tobias Harris isn't an upgrade, then either he's worse than we thought, or Brian Cardinal's an enigma.
Anthony Morrow, Sasha Vujacic and Mario West. Those are the shooting guards currently on New Jersey's roster. Nolan Smith may play an undersized 2-guard, but he got four years of coaching from Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and has incredible basketball knowledge. Smith is the kind of player that might entice Deron Williams to move with the team to Brooklyn.
The Bulls have two of the last three picks of the first round, and use one on a mid-major power forward that burst onto the scene late in the year. With the Atlantic 10 gaining more national recognition this year, Harper was the dominant force on a Richmond Spiders team that reached the Sweet 16. Averaging 18 points and seven rebounds, Harper has a strong frame that can comfortably fit into the Chicago mix.
The Spurs front line isn't getting any younger, and Vucevic is a good project for Gregg Popovich. Vucevic averaged a double-double last year at USC and can be taught by one of the great coaches and one of the great players (Tim Duncan) in the league. At age 20, there's room to progress.
Davis Bertans is the definition of a project player. Only 18 years old, the Latvian national will surely benefit from at least two more years playing in Europe before he comes to Chicago. By then, Luol Deng will be 28 and Bertans can come in to support Deng as well as the Bulls offense.