Who will go number one - Irving or Williams?
Wow...you know it as a hard and fast rule, but it amazes me how every year there are so many mixed signals sent through the blog-o-sphere and rumor mills about which team is doing what with which pick or player. It is a natural extension of the need for secrecy heading into draft night, as teams look to keep plans close to the vest in order to bring their plan to fruition.
The amazing thing is how you can hear two or more completely differing stories from "credible sources" about the same player or pick. What is required for the casual (or more than casual) fan is to have a good read on the personnel part of the game and to apply the best possible logic to each situation that the draft presents.
Will that turn you into a prophet? Probably not. But it'll definitely provide you with an opinion.
With that in mind, let's try and figure out exactly what's going to go down on the night of June 23—one pick at a time.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs are the envy of the league with two of the top four picks, including No. 1 overall. At first glance they seem set at point guard with Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions and have a nice young piece in J.J. Hickson in the frontcourt. Other than that, the cupboards are pretty bare.
Based on that information you think they'd be looking for the best two or big man available. But their positioning has the two people most talked about for the first pick being Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams.
Who goes number one overall?
Not surprisingly, there a a host of rumors that all three current Cavs mentioned above are available for trade. That means that anything is possible with the Cavs, as it should be given the state of their roster.
This makes projecting their plans difficult, but not impossible. In the end, they will look to add the most talented player to their roster, no matter the position. They will also look to balance the pick with what might be available at the fourth pick, which will also be a highly skilled player.
Add to that the fact that Davis is difficult, if not impossible to trade. That means that going Irving will require the two to fill at least 60 of the Cavs' 96 backcourt minutes. And this assumes they are able to find a partner to take Sessions, which shouldn't be all that difficult.
I really think the Cavs brass is leaning towards Derrick Williams as the No. 1 pick. Had you asked them immediately after the lottery, they probably would have said Irving. But as time has played out, I think their mindset has changed.
I'm going out on a bit of a limb here and projecting Derrick Williams to the Cavs as the first pick in the 2011 draft.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
The above scenario is exactly what David Khan and the Wolves brass were hoping to avoid. The last thing they need is another point guard with Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn already wearing their jersey. I know best player available wins in the end, but this one would be hard to justify.
At the same time, there is no doubt that Irving is worthy of being taken No. 2. That means you have a value pick on your hands—one worth looking to deal.
The Wolves are definitely going to be in talks leading up the draft with a number of teams about the best package they can offer for the pick. The value of the packages offered will all be determined by who is available—Williams or Irving.
Assuming it is Irving, I think you see four teams emerge as willing to pony up what it takes to get the Wolves to part with the pick—the Lakers, Knicks, Blazers and Pistons. Each have aggressive owners who are looking to take chances to improve their lot and may just have the pieces to get it done.
Each team has a number of hurdles to clear in terms of both the right fit of players and the rules (unknown at this time) that may be in place when any trade is consummated (there may be only a verbal agreement on draft night and then a formal agreement whenever the next league season starts).
Minnesota would be looking for a proven vet or talent where they are thin (wing) in return. Names like Pau Gasol, Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez, Ben Gordon, Austin Daye and Landry Fields would make sense on those terms. Additional picks could help sweeten a deal.
At the end of the day, Khan has to decide if he wants a third young point guard on the roster or the No. 8 pick and Daye or a couple of firsts and Fields.
Assuming they had the choice, which would be a wiser path for the Cavs?
Chances are he takes the deal. Either way, we'll slot Kyrie Irving in at number two.
3. Utah Jazz
The other envy of the draft are the Utah Jazz, who continue to reap the harvest of the Deron Williams trade.
For them it will most likely be a choice between Enes Kanter or Brandon Knight. Given that they have some solid pieces in place in Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson, they will have a lot of flexibility in who to pick.
All of the talk has the Jazz ready to turn the page on Harris and either deal him or relegate him to backup, but I don't see it. The guy had seven plus assists a game and has only been in the league for six years. I think they are sold on him as their floor general going forward.
Even though they have Jefferson as their five, Kanter would be an intriguing addition that may be too good to pass up. They would have a very tough set of frontcourt players in Kanter, Jefferson, Favors and Paul Milsap. All they'd really need is a solid young wing to plug in to the starting lineup and they'd be a very competitive team.
I think Kanter is an obvious choice for the Jazz at number three.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
Back where we started. It just so happens the fourth-best player in this draft plays the same spot as the guy they passed on at No. 1. This time, the thinking has to be different though.
For one, the drop off between Knight and and the next best prospect is, to me, pretty big. There is a lot of upside left on the board, but no one who will have a predictably steady NBA career as much as Knight will.
Secondly, Davis only has two years left on his deal before he is a free agent. That will give Knight the time he needs to grow into the starter's role. Plus, with his size, he is a better fit on the court with Davis than Irving was defensively, at least for short stretches.
Cleveland steals the day and takes Brandon Knight at No. 4 to add to Derrick Williams.
5. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are loaded with decent young talent across the board. If they added no one else to the current roster and managed to re-sign their free agents, they could have a pretty nice rotation in a few years.
That fact alone gives them a little flexibility, even more so than Utah seeing that they pick two spots later and have greater balance than the Jazz do. This is a good thing, because at this point it really becomes a lot muddier in the rankings.
Ideally, they could use a dominant defensive center or a big three with NBA range. Luckily, there are two solid candidates available in Jonas Valanciunas and Jan Vesley. Either would be a nice fit both in terms of roster chemistry and for playing in Toronto, as both hail from Europe (Toronto being a closer fit to your average European metropolis than most American cities).
In the end, I think they go with the guy they feel best about right now, which I think would be Vesley. Jonas may not be able to afford his buyout next year and will need a year or two to develop anyway. Vesley could be a part of the rotation from day one, giving the Raptors a quicker return on investment (which is sorely needed).
The pick for the Raps is Jan Vesley.
6. Washington Wizards
I have a friend who is a Wiz fan and is hoping the above scenario goes the other way. Vesley would be a great pairing with John Wall, especially for SportsCenter purposes.
Unfortunately for him and other Vesley-minded Wiz fans, in this scenario, Washington won't have that option. Instead, they will have to decide who would be the best fit out of Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo (who I still think is top-10 material) or Kawhi Leonard.
The Wiz already have Rashard Lewis, JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Yi Jianlian in the frontcourt. Based on that, Biyombo doesn't seem to fit, as he doesn't do anything at a far higher level than either Blatche or McGee. Jonas would be in a similar position, although the argument could be made that by the time he's ready there could be some roster turnover.
That leaves Leonard as the most "natural" fit, given what they already have. But as I mentioned, the biggest question is who fits best with John Wall? I'm not sure Leonard is that guy, but I think he is worth the gamble. I also think there's a good chance the Wiz brass agrees.
I'm penciling in Leonard as the No. 6 pick to Washington.
7. Sacramento Kings
Now it gets a bit tougher. Had Leonard fallen to here, I think the Kings would have snatched him right up. But he didn't, so they are left finding the best fit with what's left.
Talent-wise the best two left are Valanciunas and Kemba Walker. Some people feel that the Kings need a pure point guard to run along side of Tyreke Evans, but I'm not sure Walker is that man.
Offensively, the two would be a dynamic combo. It would be impressive to see the sets that could be run with the ball in either of their hands, especially with DeMarcus Cousins lurking on the block.
The problem is that neither is a pure point guard. Would that limit the team's ceiling down the road? Hard to say. Add in a point forward who can help facilitate the offense and you might have an ideal fit. That'll be for the Kings to decide.
In the end, I think they'll go with Walker since he is a different type of player than Evans in enough ways to justify it. Jonas would have been a nice addition to the King frontcourt alongside Cousins, but Walker is simply too much of a winner to pass up.
I'm going with Walker to the Kings at No. 7.
8. Detroit Pistons
Call this the Pistons' lucky day. While Detroit fans still try to figure out who the next coach is (and may still be come draft night), they know who is running the ship and what path he will be following for the near future.
Tom Gores recently purchased the Pistons and gave Joe Dumars a three-year window to get things back on track—a fair length of time given the ownership turmoil that has plagued the team for the last two years.
As a result, Joe D. knows he has a year or two to develop a draft pick out of the 2011 class. Lucky for him, the perfect prospect just fell in his lap, much as it did last year with Greg Monroe.
Joans Valanciunas finally gets his name called at the No. 8 spot. He and Monroe should form one of the most talented frontcourts on both ends of the floor the league has in about five years.
The only real question with Jonas is what is his mental make-up? Is he more Darko or Dirk? Will he fold like a bad hand or show nerves of steel in the meat grinder that is the NBA? I think Joe D. goes with the latter.
That is enough to make Valanciunas the No. 8 pick to the Detroit Pistons.
9. Charlotte Bobcats
This team needs a savior—and not in the owner's box 15 years after he truly was a savior. Unfortunately, drafting at No. 9 in an at-best average draft isn't going to get that savior for you too often. Still, there are some prospects who could provide a lift to this fledgling franchise.
The one guy left on the board with potential star power is Jordan Hamilton. He is a complete offensive player for the three position and would probably start from day one. Given where the Bobcats are these days, I think they end up taking the chance on Hamilton, somewhat of a reach at this point but a justified one.
I'm calling Hamilton to the Bobcats at No. 9.
10. Milwaukee Bucks
Had Hamilton not gone at No. 9, I easily could have seen him going to the Bucks at 10. They are one dynamic wing and a solid four away from being a very competitive team in the East, and Hamilton may have been one of those pieces.
That seems to be the trend of this projection in a lot of ways—guys who teams want tend to go the pick before they are up. That may spark some movement on draft night if certain teams decide a particular player is worth the price of dealing.
As for the Bucks, I think they stand pat and go with the surest thing left on the board—Bismack Biyombo.
Don't be fooled by the one-on-zero workout last week. All that told us is that this kid is going to need time. All you need to do is watch the highlights of the Nike Hoops Summit from April. He was a man among boys against his peers that day, and I think that within a year or two, he'll be playing at a pretty high level in the league.
I imagine a marriage of Ben Wallace and the early '90s version of Shawn Kemp. He won't be as good as either, but he'll have some of the skills of both. That is a scary combination, especially next to Andrew Bogut.
Chalk up Biyombo to the Bucks at No. 10.
I feel good about the ten above. Of course, it could all go in toilet if Irving goes No. 1 as most expect. But if he doesn't...let's just say you might want to keep this page open on draft night just in case.