The NCAA champion has been crowned and the NBA regular season is just a few games away from coming to an end.
So, at this time of year I’m always wondering how the upcoming crop of draft candidates will help the prospective teams in the lottery and, perhaps, how a few may be able to affect next year’s playoff picture.
Well, I put pencil to paper and names next to teams.
Now one thing is for sure—the first player drafted will be Blake Griffin–the power forward from Oklahoma. He is far and away the best prospect. What isn’t so clear is what team will occupy the number one draft position.
The most likely candidate is the Sacramento Kings. With a record of 16-64 they are leading in the pack in the Blake Griffin sweepstakes. However, the Wizards and Clippers, both with 19 wins, aren’t far behind.
But rather than speculate on where the ping pong balls will land, for the purposes of this mock draft, I’ve just put the teams in order of record.
|1.||Sacramento||Blake Griffin||PF||6′ 10″||250||Oklahoma|
Player Recap: Griffin is a no-brainer as the number-one overall pick. He’s a versatile big man with excellent athletic ability. He can put the ball on the floor and finish with both hands around the basket. He also has a great motor, evidenced by his high-volume rebounding prowess and ability to run the floor.
Griffin doesn’t possess a consistent jump shot but he has good mechanics. Needs to work on his defensive skills but has all the tools to be effective on the next level.
Team Impact: The Kings would have to be crazy not to pick Griffin if they are lucky enough to land the first pick. His presence in Sac-town would create a rather intriguing and talented three-man frontline rotation with Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson.
All three are more offensively inclined and could prove to be ineffective if they aren’t scoring. The tricky part is if they are able to complement each other on offense, will they give up too much on defense?
How the Kings coaching staff (which is in flux) handles the development of the three will be key. But, I’m sure any coach would agree that it’s a good problem to have.
If done right, Griffin, Hawes and Thompson could develop into a front-line good enough to compete in the west for years to come.
|2.||Washington||Ricky Rubio||PG||6′ 4″||180||DKV Joventut|
Player Recap: Rubio, voted the best Euro young player in 2007, is the prototypical pick & roll PG and probably the second-best prospect after Griffin. The 18-year-old Spanish phenomhas excellent ball-handling skills and is equally gifted with both hands, thanks in part to a wrist injury to his dominant right hand.
He isn’t particularly fast but has great burst and is adept at using change of speed to beat defenders. He has terrific court vision and anticipation, which are assets both in the transition and in half court situations.
At one point, Rubio led the ACB Euro League in assist per 40 min/gm at a staggering 11.5. He must develop a consistent jump shot and bulk up his physique—which should happen naturally as he matures.
Team Impact: Ricky’s energy and creativity could be a nice shot in the arm for a floundering team. He’d give the Wizards a young complementary/change of pace PG. He could take the ball out of Gilbert Arenas’ hands, freeing him to find other scoring opportunities or manage the game while “Agent Zero” is on the bench.
If he can adapt his game to the NBA, he’ll be an upgrade on the current back ups.
|3.||Clippers||Jordan Hill||PF||6′ 10″||235||Arizona|
Player Recap: Freakishly gifted athlete who plays bigger than his physical stature. Hill is still raw in terms of basketball skills but he has noticeabley improved between his sophomore and junior years—particularly with his footwork.
He is a good but not great rebounder. He needs to work on his shot—especially from the free-throw line. Hill can run the floor but is known to take plays off. Projects to be at least a key role/rotational player.
Team Impact: In a departure from what they normally do, the Clippers, have been taking on some pretty big contracts lately. A lot of their money is tied up on the front-line where Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby, and Chris Kaman all have sizeble contracts.
Unfortunately, for one reason or another, all three have been in and out of the line up all season. Hill will help solve this problem by giving the Clippers a big, and maybe more importantly, young active body upfront.
With the Clippers, Hill can take his time and develop behind the veteran Clipper bigs while battling for minutes alongside DeAndre Jordan. The competition could prove to increase Hill’s skill level and intensity on the court.
|4.||Oklahoma City||Hasheem Thabeet||C||7′ 3″||265||Connecticut|
Player Recap: Thabeet is a legit presence around the basket defensively. He shows great explosion and anticipation to block and change shots. The UConn Huskies’ center runs the floor well considering his gargantuan size.
He has very little to offer offensively but has demonstrated the ability to use his size advantage to score when in the vicinity of the hoop. Thabeet has strong hands and catches the ball with ease, but his footwork has much to be improved upon as he often gets knocked around in traffic and often loses balance.
Team Impact: Thabeet has what you can’t teach—size. At 7′ 3″ and 265 lbs he is literally the biggest prize in the draft. He would be a welcomed addition to a team with great offensive weapons but poor defensive prowess.
With him defending the basket, Durant, Green, and Westbrook can be aggressive on the perimeter defensively knowing there’s a bona fide shot blocker behind them. The big fella will also allow Nenad Krstic to slide to his more natural position at PF.
|5.||Minnesota||Tyreke Evans||PG/SG||6′ 6″||215||Memphis|
Player Recap: Evans is one of the premier perimeter scorers among this year’s crop of prospects. He can take players off the dribble to create shots for himself or teammates.
Evans led his team to the NCAA tournament by accepting the PG position but is a questionable decision-maker and turnover-prone. He can be selfish at times and could stand to work on his shooting mechanics. He does display the ability to defend both guard positions.
Team Impact: The T-wolves are in dire need of perimeter scoring and Evans immediately fills that void. He should excel in the pick and roll game with Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. He can dribble penetrate with ease and create drop off opportunities for the aforementioned Minnesota bigs (if he doesn’t take the shot himself).
Evans could possibility become the primary ball-handler interchangeably with Randy Foye in the game, be the PG when Mike Miller’s in the backcourt, or the scoring machine he was born to be when paired with Sebastian Telfair.
|6||Memphis||Willie Warren||PG/SG||6′ 4″||205||Oklahoma|
Player Recap: Squat but physically gifted player that has great a wingspan and gets into the lane with a quick first step. He has NBA three-point range and beyond.
Warren has improved his midrange game and can create shots for himself off the dribble. Can run a team in spurts but isn’t a natural point. Primarily a scorer but at times plays out of control and can over dribble. A willing defender but needs to work on technique.
Team Impact: Until Warren has defined a position either at the PG or SG, he’ll never be a fixture in any team’s starting line up. Still that doesn’t mean he won’t have an important role.
He seems suited to come off the bench in Memphis to deliver instant energy/offense to the Grizzles, if and when, OJ Mayo or Rudy Gay are struggling. Warren can also play spot minutes for Mike Conley at the point and perhaps off the ball when Mayo is in the game as the primary ball handler, which sometimes happens.
|7.||Golden State||Greg Monroe||PF||6′ 10″||235||Georgetown|
Player Recap: Big instinctive lefty with amazing upside. Monroe has excellent hands, is a fluid ball handler for a big man and is gifted offensively facing the basket.
Not much of a jump shooter but has good mechanics from the free-throw line. He needs to learn to carve out space on the block and play with his back to the basket. Lacks consistency on defense.
Team Impact: Monroe would give Golden State a true PF with offensive skills that fit their open style of play. He should immediately contribute on the offensive end as he is adept at putting the ball on the floor and has good court vision.
As a weak side defender, Monroe has the ability to alter/block shots and create steals. In a one-on-one situation he may be a liability. But that shouldn’t be an issue for the Warriors, whose primary focus is to outscore their opponents.
|8.||New York||Brandon Jennings||PG||6′ 1″||165||Virtus Roma|
Player Recap: Jennings, the consensus number-one high school player last year, possesses world class speed, natural instincts and a never say die mentality. He’s a terrific ball handler that can get to the basket with ease and finish in traffic due to his amazing bounce.
Jennings has excellent vision and is a willing passer who can make the spectacular play. He could use some more bulk especially because he’ll be going against more physical guards in the NBA.
Jennings needs to learn to play within himself and polish his jump shot. Defense is a concern with him.
Team Impact: The Mike D’Antoni experiment is just beginning in the “Big Apple,” but if D’Antoni doesn’t want to be in the same position next year, he’s going to need an instinctive passing P—and Jennings fits the mold.
Incumbent Chris Duhon performed well, but the team began to sputter in the latter part of the season when he was injured, and Nate Robinson is more suited to his role of providing scoring off the bench.
Jennings’ year playing pro ball for Roma could also prove to be advantageous as the young man adjusts to the bright lights and big stage in NYC. Plus, D’Antoni has an affinity for Italian-league players as he was a star in the country during his playing days.
|9.||Toronto||James Harden||SG||6′ 4″||220||Arizona State|
Player Recap: Harden is a savvy player whose basketball IQ overcomes his physical shortcomings. At 6′ 4″ he is undersized at SG, but lacks the foot speed to keep up with PGs. Still, he plays the game with comfort and ease while rarely forcing the action and can create plays for his teammates.
Harden has a good stop and start game and uses hesitation moves to free himself from the defense to get good looks at the basket. He’s primarily a set shooter, which explains why he’s inconsistent shooting off screens and in catch-and-shoot situations.
Plays smart pesky defense, but physically does not grade out to be a defensive stopper.
Team Impact: Harden should fit in nicely in Toronto because the Raptors could use a perimeter scorer. Harden is smart enough to pick his spots and get open looks to score or create scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Also, his learning curve should be minimal—good news for a young and inconsistent team.
|10.||Milwaukee||Al-Farouq Aminu||SF/PF||6′ 8″||215||Wake Forest|
Player Recap: Aminu is a talented combo forward whose length and athleticism give him a lot of upside. He’s very good in transition offense, either running the floor or handling the ball. He rebounds well and has range out to 18 feet.
Looks out of place on the perimeter in half-court offensive sets, but has post-up skills. Aminu lacks fundamentals on defense but shows desire to get after his man.
Team Impact: Honestly, I didn’t know who to put here, but if developed correctly, Aminu can be an intimidating defender for SFs and PFs, enhancing the Bucks' overall team defense.
He could help create fast break situations by pushing the ball off defensive rebounds—possibly creating open shots for Richard Jefferson and Michael Redd.
|11.||New Jersey||DeMar DeRozan||SG/SF||6′ 6″||210||USC|
Player Recap: DeRozan has an NBA-ready body, but needs his game to catch up to his physique. At 6′ 6″ and 210 lbs. he has the quickness and speed to guard NBA SGs and the height and strength to guard SFs.
Not an excellent ball handler or shooter, but can be an effective scorer in the right system. DeRozan relies heavily on physical talents and sometimes bails out opponents by not playing up to his potential. However, he is still very young and has great upside and unlimited potential.
Team Impact: DeRozan gives the Nets a young athletic wing they can mold to replace the aging Vince Carter. In fact, he draws comparisons to Carter and Gerald Wallace at their age and stage of development.
He’ll be a nice running mate for Devin Harris and can be the high-flying athletic wing to complement Chris Douglass Roberts or Yi Jianlian or whoever emerges as the other starter in the future.
|12.||Indiana||Cole Aldrich||PF/C||6′ 11″||250||Kansas|
Player Recap: Aldrich is a legit big man with good timing and awareness. He’s not a freakish athlete like some of the other big men prospects this year, but he has a live body. He’s an elite rebounder on both ends and has demonstrated a propensity to draw fouls, while keeping down the amount of fouls he commits.
Alridch could use another year in college to work on the other facets of his offensive game, but will warrant first-round consideration with the lack of true post players this year. Quicker bigs may present a problem for him defensively.
Team Impact: The Pacers are a year or two of experience away from breaking out on the Eastern Conference playoff scene. They get quality play from their duo of PGs and they have a strong core of wing players, led by first time All-Star Danny Granger.
What they could use is some steady low-post play. A lot of their inconsistency down low is due to injury woes but having another big body could sure up that problem. Aldrich is a quality rebounder who has become more and more reliable as his playing career has progressed.
|13.||Charlotte||Gerald Henderson||SG||6′ 4 1/2“||212||Duke|
Player Recap: Smooth athlete with a quality all-around game. Henderson isn’t a great ball handler but is explosive and can finish in contact. Inconsistent on offense but that’s primarily due to his tendency to defer to teammates.
He has an above-average basketball IQ and he’s a good one-on-one defender. He’s slightly undersized as an NBA SG.
Team Impact: College allegiances aside, this Dukie’s game is perfectly suited to the style of coaching of former UNC Tarheel Larry Brown and to the Bobcats team built by the most famous Tarheel of them all, Michael Jordan.
He’s very smart and coachable and fills a couple of roles including dribble penetration, defending perimeter players and being able to play off others while maintaining good flow on offense. In time, Henderson will be a solid replacement for Raja Bell.
|14.||Phoenix||Stephen Curry||PG/SG||6′ 2″||185||Davidson|
Player Recap: Curry is an exceptional shooter with NBA range. He has the ability to make the tough shot and was frequently called upon to carry his team in college. He’s not only a scorer.
He learned to set up his teammates, partially due to other teams concentrating their defense on him, while being the primary ball handler. Not the most physically blessed player which will limit his defensive ability.
Team Impact: In Phoenix, Curry, the young, gifted, yet undersized PG, will have the ultimate teacher in Steve Nash to show him how to play the game amongst the trees. Picking up Nash’s craftiness and decision making would add value to Curry.
Furthermore, if the Suns officially decide to go with an offense with a traditional post presence, Curry can stretch the floor with his shooting ability and if they to go back to their run ‘n’ gun style, Curry’s natural play making abilities would come in handy.
Now this is just a rough sketch of what might happen in the 2009 NBA draft. Everyday brings new declaration announcements. In addition, because the NBA now allows teams to take care of the cost of meeting and evaluating players, many underclassmen are entering their names in order to get an NBA assessment before withdrawing.
This allows them to go back to school and work on their game only to enter again in subsequent years if they don’t hire an agent. The day to withdraw is June 15.
The lottery order hasn’t been finalized yet—which I believe to be one of the biggest highlights in the NBA’s playoff programming. Still it’s fun to see how wildly wrong our predictions can turn out to be.
All I know is, I can hear the ping-pong balls popping.