The 2011 NBA draft was a bevy of expectations met and surprises issued, and as for drafts in general, that’s about par for the course. Mock drafts and even the most sophisticated statistical analyses can never account for the minds of men; the quirks of GM’s and the latitudes of self-aggrandized owners. And that’s not even addressing the secrecy and deception employed by teams all around the league, in the hope that they may mislead opponents and snag a sleeper late in the draft.
Still though, when experts convene, or at least one of them takes the time to document the insights of his fellows, the consensus is usually fairly near the reality. This year that was as true as ever. The only truly unforeseeable acquisitions were the products of the three-team trade negotiations.
Whether they should have been foreseeable or not, there were a number of surprises in this year’s draft. Here’s a look at the biggest ones. These aren’t merely picks—they’re the biggest surprises of draft day—and some of them are pretty exciting.
The ESPN analysts commentating on the draft had a brief interview between picks with Mark Jackson, the newly-appointed head coach of the Golden State Warriors. During that interview, Mark Jackson guaranteed that the Warriors would make the playoffs next season.
Coaches like to boast about their teams, so this statement doesn’t send the surprise-o-meter spiking through the roof, but it definitely registers as a blip considering the team in question is coming off a 36-46 season.
It’ll be interesting to see if Mark Jackson’s Warriors can live up to the promise he’s made for them.
As recent as two weeks ago, Jordan Hamilton was projected as a lottery pick. As the draft approached, his stock fell and so did he—right off the short list. He never fell far, though. It wasn’t until No. 26 that Hamilton finally had his name called by the Dallas Mavericks, and they were lucky to be able to acquire him so late in the draft.
Hamilton is an athletic SF with the ability to score at the rim or off a jumper, can rebound and even shoot the three ball. A number of teams with picks from 15-25, like the 76ers, Wizards and Bobcats—just to name a few—could have greatly benefited from Hamilton’s talents. He’s a steal at No. 26—and a surprise.
Josh Selby is a SG who received significant hype coming out of high school, but this star has since dimmed after the rocky performance of his freshman year at Kansas. Selby was suspended and missed nine games at Kansas and then suffered a stress fracture in his foot shortly after his return to the team. Undoubtedly, the stress fracture impacted and detracted from his performance on the NCAA stage.
Even so, Selby is one of the better scoring threats coming out of the draft, and he has the athleticism—as demonstrated by his 42” vertical at the combine—to take his game to the next level. If Selby hadn’t been suffering from the lingering stress fracture in his foot, he surely would have been a first-round choice. Many experts thought he’d be a first-round choice despite the stress fracture.
It was almost shocking that Selby fell to the Grizzlies at No. 49, but I’m sure they’re very glad to have him. He was probably one of the biggest steals in the draft.
Markieff Morris was drafted at No. 13 by the Phoenix Suns. Marcus Morris was drafted at No. 14 by the Houston Rockets.
The similarity in names is no coincidence—Markieff and Marcus (until recently it was always Marcus and Markieff)—are identical twins, and as near connected at the hip as two people have ever been.
So, what’s the surprise here? The surprise is that Markieff was drafted before Marcus.
Marcus led the Big 12 in scoring while Markieff improved and played well but seemed always fated to trill away as second fiddle to his twin brother. Perhaps, one or two prognosticators had Markieff Morris being chosen before Marcus Morris, but if so, they were the only ones. The basketball world at large was in agreement that Marcus was the better of the two twins and not only deserved to go higher in the draft but would go higher in the draft.
Charles Jenkins is an athletic engine of points and talent, undermined by a collegiate career at Hofstra, which is not noted for the toughness of their competition. He wasn’t expected to be a lottery pick, but there was a great deal of speculation that he might go in the latter portion of the first round, and if not then, surely very early on in the second.
Neither was true. Charles Jenkins went at No. 44 to the Golden State Warriors and was an absolute steal that late in the draft. He must have been one of the top prospects on the draft board for 15 or 20 picks before Golden State got to him.
It was a big surprise he went that late in the draft. Kudos to Golden State for recognizing an opportunity and snatching it up.
The Spurs selected G Cory Joseph at No. 29. Joseph was projected to be a mid to late second-round pick—certainly not late first round. He’s a skilled and dynamic player on both ends of the court, but he doesn’t have any of the flash or pizzazz expected of a first-round pick. He’s the sort of all-around player one might expect to see in a Spurs uniform, but not one that they acquired with a first-round pick.
This was only one of the surprising things the Spurs did on draft day, but we’ll get to the rest of that story in a bit.
Kawhi Leonard was a talented SF at San Diego State, where he did a little of everything but was particularly remarked upon and valued for his rebounding ability. Kawhi Leonard is not a stellar athlete, but he has enormous hands (the biggest in the draft) and stands at 6’7” with a wing span of 7’3”, which allowed him to outreach and out maneuver almost every other SF he came up against.
Every expert who took the time to compile a mock draft named Kawhi Leonard a lottery pick (one of the first 14 picks). In most of those mock drafts, Leonard ranked in between No. 6 to No. 10. All of them were wrong.
Leonard wasn’t a lottery pick. He fell to No. 15, where the Indiana Pacers finally scooped him up. Falling five, or even 10 places, later in the draft than projected may not be a big surprise later in the draft, but in the early and mid first rounds, it’s a very big deal.
There’s usually agreement about who the very best players are, and which of those players are best suited to a team’s needs. Leonard was thought to fit the needs of a handful of teams in the lottery, and yet, all bypassed him.
Pretty big surprise.
Many mock drafts had Tristan Thompson going in the lottery, but the prognosticators tended to place him between No. 7 and No. 14. I don’t think anyone had him higher, and the fact that he went to Cleveland was almost stunning. As a PF with little in the way of a postgame, the Thompson attraction doesn’t seem sufficient to warrant a No. 4 pick.
The consensus on Thompson is that he’s “raw.” This may have been not only one of the more surprising picks in the draft, but one of the worst ones as well.
At Georgia Tech, Iman Shumpert was noted for his ability to defend. At the NBA combine, he blew scouts away with his unbelievable 42” vertical leap.
After that, people began to gain real respect for this kid, and as a result, he started to climb a number of draft boards. He never, however, crossed into the first round. Most didn’t even have him going early in the second.
The New York Knicks boggled more than a few mock drafts by not only taking Shumpert in the first round, but in the middle of the first round at pick No. 17.
The Knicks fans in Newark were not pleased. Boos were audible over the miked voices of commentators, and the camera panned over groups clad in Stoudemire and Anthony jerseys, shaking their heads in dismay or disgust and mouthing things like, “What are you thinking?”
That question was probably rhetorical, but I’ll field it all the same. The Knicks were thinking clearly.
Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire are fantastic and almost unparalleled offensive weapons and absolutely atrocious on the defensive end of the court. The Knicks needed a strong defender, and Shumpert is exactly that.
Moreover, having such a star-powered duo eats up a lot of cap room. According to NBA.com, projected cap space for the Knicks in 2012 was $13.9 million. In order to put together a team that could make it further into the playoffs than last year’s Knicks, it was necessary to acquire a player who lacked All-Star hype, and therefore wouldn’t place an All-Star caliber drain on their cap space. Again, Iman Shumpert fits the bill, and even better, he’s the kind of athlete that could blossom into a real talent on both ends of the floor for the Knicks.
Surprising, yes, but also smart.
The fact that Kawhi Leonard fell to the Indiana Pacers at No. 15 was a surprise alone, and the fact that the Pacers were willing to trade that value would have been an even bigger surprise, if it weren’t for who the San Antonio Spurs had placed on the trading block. That’s the biggest surprise of all.
The Spurs offered up G George Hill, whom it was commonly believed they were grooming to not only take the place of Tony Parker but fill the enormous void that will be left in the wake of his retirement. In addition to Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs also got the rights to Indiana’s No. 42 pick, but with such high profile players on the block, that afterthought doesn’t seem like such of a much.
The ESPN announcers would have you believe that the Spurs always know what they’re doing, and they have the drafting and trade record to prove it. Fa. Good record notwithstanding, this was a dumb move. George Hill is vastly more talented and valuable, especially to a team with an aging point man, than Kawhi Leonard is. The Pacers lucked out, and the Spurs…well, who knows what they were thinking?