Scouts are calling this year's NBA draft one of the least talented crops of players in 25 years. Regardless of what the critics say, there are still several teams who can benefit from the players looking to find their spots on NBA teams. This draft is one of the deepest in recent memory, and first round picks from the lottery all the way to the latter picks of the first round should benefit their teams. Here is my take on how the 2011 NBA Draft will play out.
In a draft with a considerable lack of top-flight talent, Dan Gilbert should be kissing the feet of his son for being his team's representative at last month's lottery, securing the number one overall pick for the Cavs. While most people can only draw their opinion of Irving from the 11 games he played for the Blue Devils last year, those who have followed the young man from New Jersey's career since high school (professional scouts included) know what a special player Irving can be. In areas where former No. 1 overall selected point guards like Derrick Rose and John Wall struggled coming into the draft, Kyrie more than excels. He has a confident stroke in his jumper and staggering court vision that allows him to involve everyone on the court. Cleveland needed a franchise player in this year's draft, and they will have that with Kyrie Irving running the point.
I'm not quite as high on Williams as most people, but with the Twolves surplus of point guards and need for production, they either need to trade out of the spot or select Williams. Skeptics on Williams question his ability to defend in the NBA, the level of competition he played against in the dismal Pac-10 and exactly what position he'll play in the NBA. Criticisms aside, Williams is an athletic, explosive force who can step in and produce right away for a team that is quietly putting together an impressive crop of talent. (depending on what Ricky Rubio does).
Williams' run in the NCAA tournament, highlighted by his complete dominance of Duke's front line, showed people around the country what NBA Scouts, Pac-10 coaches and most of the west coast already knew. Williams' ability to isolate defenders, his quick first step and a deceptively impressive touch from long-range make him a nightmare to match up with. For someone as athletic as Williams, if he is able to develop his game on the defensive side of the ball, there's no reason he can't be the type of top-level defensive player who can guard any team's best player.
Despite Kemba Walker's performance in last year's championship run, I still go with Knight as the more NBA-level point guard. His experience in John Calipari's point guard driven offense and his ability to perform in the clutch should translate into early opportunities at the helm of the Jazz offense. Knight also is a dedicated learner, a fierce competitor and the type of leader that the Jazz desperately need since the departure of Jerry Sloan.
Knight has the type of frame (6'3" 177 lbs) that, once he puts on a bit more mass, will allow him to see the whole court. Knight needs to work on becoming a pure point guard and cutting down on turnovers. With the type of work ethic and brains that this young man has, combined with a vote of confidence by the Utah coaching staff, I can't imagine it will take too long for Knight to make a stamp on the league.
With Irving already in the fold, the Cavs are going to need someone for him to pass to. Enes Kanter, and his seemingly limitless arsenal of offensive moves, should be more than sufficient for that role. Although Kanter's college career was derailed by the controversy surrounding his amateur status, those who have seen Kanter play know the potential this guy possesses. At the 2010 Nike Junior Hoops Summit, an event that boasted the likes of Kyrie Irving, Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger, those in attendance will argue that Kanter was the best player on the floor (34 points, surpassing Dirk Nowitzki's previous record of 33, and 13 rebounds).
Along with his extensive offensive game, Kanter also has the type of personality and passion for the game that Cleveland fans will fall in love with (see UK midnight madness 2010). Kanter needs to work on his defense a bit and could definitely benefit from some speed drills to improve his foot quickness. Despite his limited shortcomings, the selection of Kanter, along with Kyrie Irving, will give Cavs fans something to look forward to down the road.
With the selection of Vesely, the Raptors continue the trend of European big men in this year's draft. Vesely's game is a stark contrast to Kanter's, as he is somewhat limited in his offensive game and will need work to develop the type of consistency that will allow him to be a force in the NBA. What he lacks in offensive skill, Vesely makes up for with energy, athleticism, and natural ability.
Vesely is the type of player that coaches love to work with. Although he does not possess a finely tuned offensive game, he is so big (6'11" 230), fast and deceptively quick that he will still manage to contribute on the offensive end. He is faster than most of the players he will be matched up against, which should work very well in the Raptors offensive system. He is a unique contrast to former lottery pick Andrea Bargnani, and, if he continues to progress, the two will cause nightmare matchups for opposing defenses. His footspeed allows him to be a pretty solid defender that the Raptors desperately need more of.
If Vesely continues to refine his offensive game and make the most of his playing time, he will be a crucial cog in the Raptors quest to return to the playoffs.
As someone who has spent a lot of time in the DC area and attended several Wizards games, I can safely say that this franchise is in a difficult spot. John Wall is a potential star, but this team simply lacks the type of talent that will allow them to compete in the increasingly competitive Eastern Conference.
Despite this not being the most talent-rich draft, I do think that Kawhi Leonard is the type of player that can contribute to bringing the Wizards back to prominence. Leonard's length, athleticism and explosion will immediately pay dividends for a Wizards offense whose transition game usually just consists of Wall dribbling through defenders until he gets to the rim.
Leonard is a motor guy whose energy level will make him a favorite in the basketball rich DC area, a region starving for hoops success. Leonard also poses a matchup problem for defenders, and if he can develop a post game, he can use his size to overpower smaller defenders.
Critics of Leonard mostly focus on his "jack of all trades, master of none" type game. He is pretty good in most areas but does not excel in one aspect. If Leonard wants to succeed on the NBA level, he is going to have to work on his jump shot (awkward shooting form), his discipline and staying involved in the offense, as he had a tendency to disappear at times last year.
The Wizards franchise needs to start making moves to re-establish themselves in the NBA. Drafting Wall was a start; the selection of Leonard should be another step in the right direction.
Perhaps, besides Williams, no player helped his draft status in the NCAA tournament more than Kemba Walker. His historical run propelled his Huskies to their third National Championship and cemented Walker in NCAA folklore forever. Although he will not be able to manipulate defenses the way he did in college, Walker's grit, determination and sheer talent could make him an electric player for the Kings.
Walker is as quick as any player in the draft and has a unique ability to manipulate defenders. He demonstrated an improved jump shot, and as most people know, he has quite the flare for the dramatics. Walker's size is what makes scouts hesitant. In an era where point guards are getting bigger every year, Walker's 6'1" (generous) frame will be on the lower end of the guard spectrum. If Walker wants to be a point guard in the NBA, he is going to have to quickly get out of the mentality that he needs to run isolation plays every possession to succeed.
The luxury of selecting a player like Walker, especially for the early stages of his career, is that he can prove to be a valuable commodity off the bench, providing instant offense whenever he does get the chance to play.
If this draft shakes up like this, the Pistons probably won't be too happy. Most reports have the Pistons in the market for Leonard, Walker or Knight. Unfortunately, that's just how things have gone for the Pistons lately.
Despite missing out on those prospects, Valanciunas dropping down to the number eight slot would be considered a steal by most. Another European big man, the Lithuanian center has the size, athleticism and natural talent that could be developed into a star. Valanciunas, similar to Vesely, does a lot of things well that are often ignored in today's game. He is an explosive, confident rebounder, he is active on the offensive glass and he understands his role in the offense. Another bonus of this young man's game is that he already has a Nowitzki-esque stroke from the free throw line.
His game is very raw at this point. He has a massive frame but needs to develop his post game if he is to effectively use it. His game could complement the high post game of Greg Monroe very well if he progresses the way they want. The Pistons may have missed out on their franchise pick at this point, but down the line, they could be very happy if Valanciunas falls to them.
The Bobcats get the type of scorer that they desperately needed last year, selecting the high-flying forward at No. 9. The Bobcats digressed a bit last year after the previous season's trip to the playoffs. A major reason is that, although the team possesses several impressive players in their own right, they don't have anyone who can manufacture points the way Burks did at Colorado.
Burks has the length, instincts and athleticism to play and potentially start right away. In addition to his knack for getting to the hoop, Burks' ball-handling, combined with a 6'10" wingspan allows him to keep defenders off balance. The guard also isn't afraid to get involved on the glass (6.5 boards a game) and even involve others (2.9 apg).
Burks needs to be able to utilize his NBA frame more on the defensive end. His length and athleticism should allow him to guard multiple positions on the court, but that aspect of his game hasn't developed quite yet. I'm sure, possibly with a little bit of tutelage from team owner Michael Jordan, that Burks could develop into a lethal scorer and defender for a franchise that is in dire need of one.
Another organization that took a major step back last year and is looking to recapture the swagger that brought them to the playoffs the year before is the Bucks. The Bucks also have some very good pieces in place, but need help in the scoring department. Brandon Jennings often struggles scoring when he cannot get to the rim, and Andrew Bogut is still trying to regain his pre-injury form.
The selection of Thompson would provide the Bucks with an NBA caliber shooter ready to contribute right away. Thompson, one of the few upperclassmen in this year's draft, has an expansive knowledge of the game and a solid grasp on his role on the floor. He is a knock down jump shooter from anywhere on the court, including the free throw stripe. The 6'7" guard can also surprise defenders with some impressive dunks in transition.
Thompson's game will take some time to adjust to the size and speed of the NBA game. He will have to improve his physicality and learn to play at a different tempo, especially in transition. With the addition of Thompson to an offense in desperate need of a shooter, the Bucks hiatus from the playoffs may not last very long.
As someone who went to school at Maryland, I know how frustrating it is to play against Chris Singleton. Before the Seminoles' surprising run in the NCAA tournament, Singleton was not the most well known figure. However, in his three years in Tallahassee, Singleton caused fits for countless scorers spanning four different positions. Whether it was Kyle Singler or Malcolm Delaney, Singleton prided himself on making some of the nation's premier offensive talents look as if they had never taken a jump shot before.
Singleton's length and mobility will allow him to step in right away as the stopper for a team that is trying to establish a defensive identity. Singleton does have scoring ability and will be able to chip in on nights where Curry, Ellis (if he remains there) and Wright may struggle. He will need to develop a better feel for the game on the offensive side if he wishes to be a starter in the NBA. Last year's injury caused a few questions. but Singleton, for the most part, has remained injury free in school.
With the addition of Singleton, the Warriors may finally be able to consistently score in triple digits and not end up in the lottery.
Fredette may not be the ideal pick in terms of team needs, but if we're talking about an organization that needs to re-inject interest into a fan base that just lost their beloved head coach, Jimmer is just what the doctor ordered.
We've all seen the astronomical scoring numbers and the highlight reels of his nonchalant 30 footers, but there is much more to Fredette's game than what his Naismith reel told people. Fredette has a very good grasp of the game, which makes up for his shorter stature. He is a fantastic ball-handler and utilizes set plays very well, running off screens and making quick cuts. He is confident, which he will need to be, and has Utah fans thinking of John Stockton, even though their games are completely different.
Fredette has to work on his defense and his conditioning, as well as improving some of his shot selection. His first few seasons, Fredette will be a valuable commodity off the bench and a lovable figure, ala Tim Tebow, that fans will pack the stadium for.
Making a rare appearance in the lottery, the Suns select another foreign born big man. With Steve Nash's best years behind him and the team in a bit of a transitionary phase, they are a solid fit for Phoenix at pick No. 13. Biyombo's world-class athleticism, explosiveness and physicality will allow him to step in and earn playing time contributing energy plays and tough defense. He has a refreshing attitude combined with a strong will to improve his game. His play on the offensive side of the ball needs to improve drastically, as most of his points come on the offensive glass or in transition.
The Phoenix Suns are far removed from the teams of Nash and Stoudemire. If Biyombo's game can progress for a couple of years, the Suns are going to look back at that pick as a major turning point in the franchise.
Rounding out the lottery, the Rockets address their need for scoring from the wing position by drafting the long sophomore out of Texas. The Chase Budinger starting experiment never really panned out, and bringing in Hamilton can inject the Houston lineup with offense right from the get go.
Hamilton's long frame, matched with his deadly jump shot, make him a difficult matchup for defenders, and his ability to involve others in the offense will allow the rest of the team to take advantage of the issues that teams will have defending him. He's not afraid to get involved on the glass either, which should allow for more earlier playing time.
Hamilton doesn't necessarily have the top-flight athleticism of some of the league's small forwards and probably needs to work on shot selection a bit, as he has been criticized for settling for jumpers rather than trying to get to the rim. By selecting Hamilton at 14, the Rockets hope that they can continue to move past the teams who suffered the loss of Yao Ming.
I am not as high on the Morris twins as everyone else is. I don't like the idea of splitting up a pair of identical twins, and I just have a difficult time seeing either one of them be able to deliver consistently on the NBA level.
Having said that, the Pacers will probably be thrilled to see Marcus drop all the way to 15. Morris has an extensive offensive skill set which includes a solid jump shot ranging to about 20 feet as well as an array of moves that he can execute from the high and low post. He is an active player on the defensive end and often outworks opposing players for rebounds and spots on the floor. Marcus isn't particularly athletic, which, along with his average measurable, may make it difficult for him to operate against NBA defenders.
The Pacers have shown an aptitude for developing similar players, such as Tyler Hansbrough, and one could imagine they'd do just the same with the first Morris twin.
The Sixers, who made leaps and bounds over new head coach Doug Collins last year, get a bona-fide big man in the likes of Tristan Thompson. The second Longhorn player selected, this big lefty is the type of potential inside scoring option that last year's squad so desperately needed. Thompson's deceptive athleticism should fit right in with Collins' uptempo offense and his ability to crash the boards on both the offensive and defensive end should provide scoring opportunities for him while he works on refining his offensive game (perhaps a task Elton Brand could help facilitate).
Criticisms on Thompson are primarily directed at his shaky jump shot. At 6'9", Thompson may not have the size to match up with other big men down low all the time, and, if he would like to be a starter in this league, he will have to develop some resemblance of a mid-range jumper to compensate for his height. The Sixers return to the discussion as top teams in the east can only continue if they address their needs, and with the addition of Thompson, they do just that.
The Knicks, in an offseason of uncertainty and major shakeups, provide the organization with some stability by selecting the high-scoring Senior out of Providence. Brooks's stellar senior season (see 52 point game), paired with his impressive performance in the pre-draft combine and workouts, have raised his stock drastically and make him an impressive new piece to, what fans in New York hope, a soon-to-be championship squad.
Brooks, who already has an impressive offensive game in multiple facets, will benefit from working with Carmelo Anthony and his basketball IQ and role on the defensive side should pay dividends and earn Brooks playing time early and often. Brooks will have to adjust to not being his team's primary scoring option and alter his game to make up for more athletic defenders. The Knicks continue to develop into a major player in the Eastern Conference by adding the experienced, explosive offensive game of Marshon Brooks.
The Wizards, with their second pick in the first round, add some scoring to their frontcourt by selecting the talented freshman out of Tennessee. Complaints about Andray Blatche litter discussions regarding the team's struggles, and bringing in Harris will be a major step into getting more production out of their big man. Harris has an instinctive feel for the game, which allows him to manipulate defenders in multiple ways. His deceptive quickness allows him to score inside, despite only being 6'8".
The Wizards will also benefit from having Thompson, an 18-year-old, develop a more mature game under their system. Harris will have to improve his physicality and athleticism if he wants to keep pace with the team in transition. Washington fans should be happy with the direction of the team after their second pick in one of the more important drafts in the franchise's recent history.
The Bobcats, another team with two picks, bring in Vucevic to provide size and offensive production out of the center position. Vucevic has NBA size and an ability to produce quickly on the offensive end. He has crept up draft boards in the past few weeks, displaying deceptive explosion and tenacity that some thought was missing from his game.
His array of post moves from both the low and high posts will provide a legitimate threat for a team that is looking to address the scoring woes of last year. Vucevic is going to have to pick up his game on the defensive side, as his lack of athleticism and quickness may put him in difficult scenarios against centers like Dwight Howard. Michael Jordan's team wraps up their first round with two legitimate offensively gifted players who can step in and contribute right away.
Iman Shumpert, whose GT career consisted of instability and being overshadowed, gets his due after the Timberwolves select him at number 20. Shumpert is as valuable an asset on the defensive side of the ball as anyone in the draft not named Chris Singleton. He has NBA size (6'5"), athleticism and the ability to contribute in multiple different ways on the court. Shumpert's ability to rebound and steal on the defensive end, combined with his slashing and ball handling ability, will make him valuable in the transition game for Minnesota.
If Shumpert wants to earn significant playing time, he's going to have to develop a consistent game with a more disciplined shot selection. He'll also probably have to learn to play a little more off the ball with Minnesota's crop of young point guards. Shumpert's hard nosed defensive game and top tier athleticism will provide Shumpert with opportunities to showcase his game early on.
The Trailblazers, who put up as good a fight against the champion Mavericks as any other team, draft the darling of last year's NCAA tournament in the form of rebounding machine Kenneth Faried. The Blazers' injury riddled stable of front court players has put a major burden on Lamarcus Aldridge, and Faried can provide the team with a bench option that can play major minutes. Faried's skill in the rebounding department is as impressive, if not more, than any other prospect's skill in a specific area.
Despite not being the tallest player (6'7"), Faried uses his athleticism and intensity to attack the ball at its highest point and often times be the one who comes down with it. His defensive game is not limited to rebounding, as he also is a sound on the ball defender and contributes blocks and steals as well.
As good as Faried is on defense, that's how much work he needs on offense. The Blazers don't need scoring from him now, but if he is to be a starter in this league, he is going to have to develop a scoring option outside of put-backs and dunks. Faried's ferocity and athleticism could be the type of piece that this Blazers team needs to get past the early playoff woes.
With JR Smith probably on his way out and Carmelo in a Knicks uniform, the Nuggets are all of the sudden quite thin in terms of scoring from the wing position. Honeycutt's expansive offensive game and the athleticism that will help that aspect of his game translate to the NBA level.
Honeycutt has been lauded for his hard work and determination on both sides of the ball, and that should help him integrate himself into head coach George Karl's new team philosophy. Honeycutt is a solid rebounder and should be a valuable transition offense for the Nuggets' stable of quick guards. Honeycutt will have to add significant size to his frame and develop the type of strength that will allow him to finish near the rim. George Karl's team continues the post-Melo era with a selection that will help the team in all areas.
The Rockets, with their second pick in the first round, take the bigger, second Morris twin to help shore up their front line. Morris's aggressive game and desire to improve helped move him into first round conversations. He is a strong finisher around the wing and exhibits the type of intensity on the offensive end that should allow him to outwork defenders for production. He is a commodity on the defensive end, as he possesses the same will power as his brother and works hard every possession.
Markief needs to develop a mid-range game that will bring taller bigs who are defending him out to guard him. He also needs to improve his ball handling skills. The Rockets bring in a blue-collar, attitude driven player that should impact the team both on the court and off.
The Thunder, who continued to develop into perhaps the top young team in the league, were derailed by a lack of cohesion and clutch play in the Western Conference finals. They address these issues and more by bringing in one of Coach K's most beloved Blue Devils.
Singler is as tough a competitor as there is in this draft, and his knowledge of the game, combined with his unselfish play, should make him a crucial element of the Thunder team moving forward. Singler has a soft touch from the perimeter and has the ability to take advantage of smaller defenders in the post.
Despite a willingness to get the rest of his team involved, Singler knew when to take over for his team, and that desire to win helped them close out Butler in the 2010 National Championship. Some say Singler's game took a step back last year, as his effectiveness from the field and long-distance were both below standards. Despite a commitment to defense, Singler's average athleticism may put him in difficult scenarios guarding some of the more athletic wing players.
The Thunder's inability to close out games last year possibly cost them a chance to the NBA finals. With the selection of Singler, they bring in a player who knows how to win and will stop at nothing to make sure he does.
After speculation that the Celtics' age was finally going to catch up to them, their playoff loss at the hands at the Miami Heat all but confirmed Boston fans' fears. Despite their age, the Celtics are talented enough to possibly make one more run at another title, and Jackson is the type of player who can step in and contribute immediately as well as be a long term option alongside Rajon Rondo.
The improvements that Jackson showed in his game during his junior year, combined with NBA length and athleticism, make him an attractive pick for a team looking for a guy that could help right away. Jackson's length and explosion make him a nightmare around the rim, and his improved perimeter game, paired with his 7'0" wingspan, will make it difficult for guards defending him.
Jackson is fairly short for the 2 position, and his length may not be enough to escape that in all instances. He will definitely have to buy into the team philosophy of Doc Rivers and avoid the sort of out of control drives that would sometimes get him in foul trouble. If the fading Celtics want to make one more run at title number 18, they will have to get immediate production from whoever they draft, and Jackson is ready to do that right away.
The champion Mavs benefited from the inspired play of aging veteran Jason Kidd. Despite his impressive play, there has been more than enough indication that the future Hall of Fame point guard may be running out of steam. With the pick of Morris here, the Mavs shore up their point guard position for years to come. Morris' confidence should mesh well with the likes of Jason Terry and Deshawn Stevenson, and his leadership abilities should earn him immediate respect in the locker room.
Morris is a top-notch passer and works well in the halfcourt, an area that the Mavs showed a commitment to in their upset of the Heat. Similar to Kidd when he was coming into the league, Morris does not possess an NBA ready jump shot and will need some work on that. The Mavericks continue to bring confidence to the locker room by bringing in their potential point guard of the future with Morris.
The third Duke player selected in the draft is an Avery Johnson pick to say the least. Smith will bring leadership and toughness to a young Nets team. He improved his game every year that he was at Duke, and by the time he was a senior, he was in the conversation for player of the year. Smith will obviously benefit from the coaching of Mike Krzyzewski for four years and playing in the ultra competitive ACC.
Smith is a committed defender and relishes any opportunity to guard another team's top guard. He isn't a pure point guard and, at 6'3", he's shorter than most prospects in the draft. He will have to work on expanding his offensive game with more developed moves off the dribble.
Avery Johnson brings in a winner that fans can recognize right away with the selection of Nolan Smith at 27.
The Bulls' lack of depth behind Derrick Rose was exposed in their crushing defeat to the Miami Heat in this year's playoffs. They address that deficiency by bringing in the motor of Brad Stevens' Butler Bulldogs, Shelvin Mack.
The Bulls are dangerously close to championship form, and Mack is the type of player who has enough confidence to step in and contribute right away. He is a guy who wants to be on the floor with the game on the line and, after Chicago blew multiple leads in the Heat series, should find a place in a very talented lineup. A strong guard who has great length should translate to improved defensive play down the line as well.
He will have to improve his point guard play and has to find more ways to compensate for his lack of athleticism. Chicago's loss to the Heat probably stings them as much as any other team going into the offseason. Bringing in a guy like Shelvin Mack, who is comfortable in the spotlight, could help them move past the Conference Finals next year.
Similar to the Celtics, the Spurs' age was exposed in their unexpected first round loss to the Grizzlies. As players like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker approach retirement, Greg Popovich and the management of the Spurs need to alter the culture of their team. Bringing in a multi-dimensional player like Harper is a step in the right direction. The days of Duncan operating in the post are over, and the Spurs need to get younger in the frontcourt. A player with the skill set like Harper can impact the team early as well as benefit from the teachings of Duncan.
Harper's offensive skill set is as impressive as any other big man in the draft, and he only has room to grow. He is able to step out and hit the NBA range three-pointer as well as use his size and operate in traffic.
Harper will need some coaching and some time in the weight room before he is ready to be a consistent contributor for the Spurs. With the way that the management of the Spurs, as well as Greg Popovich, have utilized their late draft picks in years past, one can only expect Harper to develop into a inside-outside threat in this league very quickly.
Another player who had quite the workload in Chicago's series against the Heat was Luol Deng. Chicago didn't have any viable options who could provide the scoring that Deng did while being able to play solid defense. By picking Butler with the last selection in the first round, the Bulls address their other serious need in this year's draft.
Butler is a player, like Mack, who can come in and provide the Bulls with an talent level that can contribute early on in the NBA. He spent four years in the competitive Big East and spent time around other players who have achieved success in the league. He knows how to get to the rim and finish, and he has the ability to break down defenders off the dribble.
Butler is going to need to develop a more consistent jump shot to make up for his physical shortcomings, and he will need to buy into coach Tom Thibodeau's defensive system. Looking at where the Bulls franchise is at now, they have the luxury of being able to address their needs in both the short and long term. The selections of Mack and Butler will provide that sort of role as the team tries to win their first post-Jordan championship.
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