Last night's NBA draft was a proverbial chess match of strategically selecting from a mediocre crop of talent. Trades were rumored, picks were swapped and teams tried to make the best of their selections. Despite not being a particularly strong crop of prospects at all, this draft, like all drafts, had talent that can contribute in the NBA.
Sometimes, where a player is selected in the draft makes all the difference in their career. A solid prospect who may not be ready for the spotlight may be drafted too high and crumble under the expectations, or a highly touted prospect may watch pick after pick in front of him without hearing his name called. The latter prospect can react in two different ways: he can pout and complain about how teams didn't recognize what they were missing out on, or they can use that disappointment as motivation to prove the teams that passed on them wrong and exceed expectations. Every draft has these types of players. Here are five who I think will fit that mold.
Almost every mock draft I saw had the same top three picks, with Knight rounding it out going to Utah. He was the type of smart, instinctive point guard that a team like the Jazz could really take advantage of, and he would be ready to play right away. Utah instead opted for Enes Kanter, a player who most expected to be taken at pick four or later.
There weren't too many teams in front of Detroit who had serious point guard needs, and Knight does not seem like the type of prospect who would dwell on something like this, but he fell into a great future situation as the new front man for the Detroit Pistons. Knight follows the likes of great guards in Detroit history like Billups, Hamilton (in previous years), Isiah Thomas and, his new president, Joe Dumars.
Knight, whose leadership qualities will be put to the test, will have to bring the Pistons back from being the focus of severe scrutiny after some of the issues dealt with last year. Judging by this kid's work ethic, skill on the court and having a solid head on his shoulders, I would imagine that Knight falling to Detroit could not have worked out any better for him.
You can say that Marcus Morris was thrilled for his brother as much as you want. You can also say that one pick doesn't make a difference. But, after every expert covering the draft touts Marcus as the better prospect of two identical twins, believe me, hearing his brother's name before him struck a little nerve in the younger brother. There was genuine happiness on both brother's parts for being selected in the lottery, and there is still little doubt who the more talented of the brothers is right now, but I know I wasn't the only one surprised hearing Markieff's name first.
I had not been a huge fan of either of the twins, as I can't really see a position that either one could consistently start in the league at. There are those that say that Markieff may not have even been on the draft radar prior to this past year's college season. I did know that there were teams high on both players, and they would be drafted. It was a nice thing to see them go back to back in the draft but, as most older and younger brothers know, everything is a competition. We all heard the stories about how these were about as identical a set of twins as one could come across, but they are still brothers. I think that Marcus may have heard from enough people that he was the one to be selected first and knock big brother down a peg. I expect him to take that little jolt he felt when the commissioner said his brother's name and use that to do anything he can to contribute to the Rockets.
Not only do I think that Kawhi Leonard will effectively use his slide out of the lottery to his advantage in terms of motivation, but, after the Pacers traded the 15th pick away, he ended up on the roster of one of basketball's modern, albeit fading, dynasties. No one expected Leonard to slack off in terms of preparing himself for the NBA draft, as his reputation as a gym rat has garnered praise around the league, but I saw a lot of experts who slotted Leonard at around pick six going to Washington.
As teams appeared to opt more for the International players, it became apparent that Leonard might actually slip to Washington at pick 18. He didn't quite make it there, but I had to do a double take when I realized the lottery was over, and he was still in the crowd. Leonard, probably more than any player on this list, may not need the self-motivation to impress considering he will be under the tutelage of, what I consider, one of the must underrated coaches in the history of the game.
Gregg Popovich's legacy will be highlighted by his multiple championships, but what may be overlooked, is his ability to develop talent. Popovich will be able to dedicate the type of attention Leonard needs to develop into the type of threat that his talent level would suggest, and the level of achievement one has come to expect with the Spurs will give him the taste of success that he may not have gotten in Washington or Golden State. I think that people recognize the Spurs' ability to draft and realize that the aging team may be adding a shot of life when they needed it most.
Hamilton's draft night, one that was supposed to be one of the most important in the young man's life, was marred by a comment towards his now ex-coach Rick Barnes. Hamilton did a lot of talking on draft night, some about how he thought Barnes had badmouthed him to interested teams and some about having a chip on his shoulder and wanting to prove the doubters wrong. If he can move past his negativity towards Barnes and focus more on that second statement, Hamilton could turn into the steal of the draft. The Nuggets are a team whose philosophy does not revolve around a single player, but they also need a player with the same scoring mentality as Carmelo, and that is where Hamilton comes into play.
George Karl's squad impressed everyone following the blockbuster trade with New York and took Oklahoma City's best shot in the first round before falling to the Thunder in the playoffs. One area where the Thunder really exposed the Nuggets in their series was in the clutch. Kevin Durant was the lone player on the court who clearly demonstrated that he was the guy who wanted the ball with the clock winding down. The Nuggets played up to, if not even better than the level of the Thunder, but still came up empty in the end. With the addition of another player who knows how to shoot and score, the Nuggets can continue to progress as a team with a new identity. George Karl is a world-class coach and knows how to utilize the talent that he has. If he is able to get the most out of Jordan the way he has with the rest of the team, the Nuggets will continue to contend, and possibly surpass the elite teams of the Western Conference.
There was a time where most experts considered Josh Selby to be the better point guard prospect than Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight. Those accolades are but a memory to the troubled Kansas point guard, whose season was derailed by controversy, injuries and an inability to maintain any sort of consistent play. Selby experienced one of the more extreme peaks and valleys for an athlete and folks in Lawrence will only remember him for the disappointment that he was. Selby did, however, possess the sort of physical tools that could prove valuable in the NBA; he just needs to figure out what kind of player he wants to be and improve his attitude, fast.
If there is a team that knows about quick attitude adjustments, it's Memphis. The story of Tony Allen's encounter with OJ Mayo midway through the season, establishing Allen as the primary presence in the locker room, has gained folklore status in NBA folklore. That team decided they were going to change their identity and force teams to recognize them. They went on to upset the one-seeded Spurs in the playoffs and take the Thunder to seven games.
With Tony Allen's presence in the locker room, paired with the connection that coach Lionel Hollins has with the team, they simply won't deal with any attitude problems. This team is not in the business of anyone questioning their work ethic or intensity. They want teams to fear them and use a physical brand of play that takes teams out of their rhythm. A player with the skill set like Selby's has a place on this team. If he can buy into the Memphis culture and deal with the sort of expectations that will be demanded by him from the rest of the team, Selby may be able to turn around his one promising career.