Dancing With Noah

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NBA Draft Big Board | Players 16-20

The fifth and final installment of our 2017 draft coverage. Man, the deeper you go, the more difficult it is to see consistency in these players. It becomes an exercise in possibility and potential which is kind of funny given that most of the top-players in this year’s draft are fresh 19-year-olds with a single season of college basketball under their belts. Attempting to go even semi-deep on scouting some of these mid-range first founders is an eternal balance between flaws (John Collins’s defense), health (Harry Giles’s knees), and upside (Jarrett Allen’s physical gifts). It’s difficult to project with any confidence who will develop and who will stagnate, but that’s what we’ve attempted to do here, just know that we’re fully aware our success rates will likely dwindle into nothingness and that we’ll look back at our player comparisons three seasons from now like “WTF were we thinking?”

Special thanks to my fellow writers, Bug and Hamilton and our awesome designer, Maahs. Additional thanks to Draft Express, The Ringer, Dunc’d On podcast (Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux) and Basketball Reference. Tons of great resources out there that were critical to us being able to put these scouting reports into existence.

With all that said, let’s get into player’s 16-20 on the 2017 Dancing with Noah Big Board.

Hamilton: By some measures, John Collins looks like he belongs near the top of this draft class. He averaged nearly 29 points and 15 rebounds per-40 minutes and had the top PER in college basketball. He gets a lot of those buckets in the paint using an array of quick half hooks and little push shots that remind me of Antawn Jamison. He really uses lower body well to seal for position on post catches, rolls hard and is a good leaper off two feet when he has time to load up his jump. If Collins has any NBA skills that get him on the floor soon it will be his effort on offense, along with his rebounding. Collins’ catch-and-shoot game from 19-feet is solid for a college big. The form on his shot looks smooth enough to develop into a reliable jumper. His willingness to roll hard and fight for rebounds coupled with that shooting give him a chance to become a serviceable offensive player. He hits the glass hard on both ends, as evident in per-40-mpg rebound number. He seems to have a good second jump when battling in traffic for rebounds and tips a lot of balls to keep them alive. Tristan Thompson has made a ton of money with this as a key skill … That’s some of the good stuff.

The not-so-good is mostly on the defensive end. Collins has just OK size for a five-man even in today’s NBA. He doesn’t have enough awareness to guard many fours, frequently getting caught helping uphill against dribblers. He gets lost too often even against basic movement. These things suggest a steep learning curve against pick-and-roll in the NBA. For how physical he is on the glass he doesn’t seem nearly as comfortable with contact while guarding. Oddly (to me at least) is how much better his footwork is offensively compared to his defensive footwork. And therein lies my concern for his career (at least early). He’s likely to be drafted late lottery or by a so-so playoff team. Those teams are more likely to have shorter leashes with guys who get killed on defense (looking at you James Young) than teams picking in the top-5-10. There’s definitely a path to a long productive career for Collins, but we may see very little of him over the next two-to-three years.

Bug: This isn’t Justin Jackson’s first rodeo with the draft process. After his sophomore season, Jackson threw his name in the hat for the 2016 draft without hiring an agent. However, he was not met with the love from the scouts that he was hoping for last year. Jackson saw the writing on the wall, and pulled his name out to head back to school to put in some more work on his game.

Fast forward to 2017: coming off a national title run with North Carolina, Jackson is now getting the positive feedback he was looking for last year. It’s a great success story for him, but there both positives and negatives to his initial failed draft experience. The obvious pros for the UNC product returning to school are that he played his way into a potential lottery slot, won a national championship, and fixed some of the weaknesses in his game (outside shooting jumped from 29% to 37%). That improvement also shows scouts that he is willing to put in the work necessary to succeed at the highest level of basketball in the world. The downside to coming back for another year is that he is now one of the oldest prospects in the draft and loses a lot of his upside appeal. How much more room does he have before he hits his ceiling?

Based on his size and skill set (6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan), I think he projects as a solid “3 and D” guy in the NBA. Guys like Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley come to mind as comparisons, and they have never had a problem finding a team or a spot in the rotation. As long as he keeps improving his jumper and shot selection, while also keeping the same intensity on defense that he brought his junior season at UNC, he should have no problem sticking in the NBA. Jackson may never become an all-star player, but he should have a long, productive career as a solid contributor and possible starter down the road.

Fenrich: Harry Giles of Winston-Salem, North Carolina just turned 19 a couple months ago and yet his basketball career has already been beset by multiple semi-catastrophic knee injuries. In 2013, Giles tore the ACL, MCL, and meniscus in his left knee. In 2015, he tore his right ACL. Oy!

Recovery for the second ACL bled over to his freshman season at Duke where he averaged under four-points-per-game and nearly eight-fouls-per-40 minutes. Reading and writing that made my head hurt.

But what didn’t make my head hurt was watching Giles’s highlight tape. He has decent height (6’11”) and length (7’3” wingspan) that are bolstered by fluid athleticism. He runs the floor well without any obvious hitches from his knee injuries. The length and athleticism are further bolstered by what appears to be a solid motor. He understands team defense and doesn’t mind mixing it up on the boards or the defensive end. And where we often opt for the cool, unbiased certainty of stats and measures, seeing a guy give a crap and play hard still counts for something.

He doesn’t seem quite ready to be a contributor on the offensive side. Like a lot of players his position and age, he seems like he’d be wise to watch tape of Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan and learn the timing of how and when to roll on the pick-and-roll.

Given that he appeared in just 300 minutes at Duke and has these two knee injuries, it’s challenging to see what he’s truly capable of. In those minutes, he took no threes and shot just 50% from the line on less than an attempt each game. It’s not that his offense is raw, but rather it might just longing for some TLC. I know that’s weird, but there’s a skillset here that’s better than the four-points-per game he showed at Duke.

Maybe it’s just that he plays hard and doesn’t mind doing the dirty work, but I’m a fan of Giles. I have no idea if he can pass or handle the ball or stay out of foul trouble, but agile big men who can switch on the perimeter and don’t mind banging still have a place in the NBA and that means Giles has a home waiting for him in the best basketball league in the world.

Fenrich: The mustache, the little fro, the headband. Jarrett Allen looks like someone straight out of the ABA and for a 19-year-old, he has a mustache that can make grown men envious – at least those longing for mustachioed excellence. Allen is also longer and a better leaper than Giles (his age and positional peer).

And yet, where I find myself excited and hopeful for Giles, I’m unenthused about Allen.

With his length and hops, he can dunk without fear of reprisal. He’s capable of being a plus-rebounder and shot blocker because he’s just so damn long. There’s even a little mid-range set shot that makes me think of Marcus Camby and in his lone season at Texas, he flashed the ability to read double teams.

But there’s a general aversion to mixing it up. In the tape I watched on Allen, he played with finesse (except when he was dunking in someone’s face) and seemed unwilling to bang with opponents. He doesn’t have to be compared to Giles, but where the Duke product went balls to the wall, Allen’s motor is a question mark to me. He’s listed at 235-pounds, but looks just as lean as Giles and without that wiry-type functional strength. It may be there, but he just hasn’t figured out how to leverage it with consistency.

What I worry about with some prospects is that they’re able to get by on talent alone and when faced with equal or better competition, they don’t have the motor or desire to dial up their intensity to match the opponent. Is this the case with Allen or were my expectations just unfair due to his throwback look? Who knows? Is he Trey Lyles or PJ Brown?

Fenrich: If we redid the big board, I think Rabb would likely fall further than anyone else. This kind of bums me out because I followed him over his two seasons at Cal liked what I saw of him around the basket. He’s a plus-rebounder with a good nose for the ball. Like seemingly every other big man in this draft, he’s got NBA height and length, but he’s somewhat limited in how he uses it.

What jumped out to me as a red flag was the decline in his shooting from his freshman to sophomore season where his true shooting dropped from 63% to 54% despite shooting a decent 40% on 8-20 from deep.

As his current skill set is constituted, he doesn’t project as having NBA-level scoring ability. Per The Ringer, he was a below average shooter from nearly every spot on the floor. He likes to play in the post, but at a not-too-strong 220-pounds, he doesn’t have the strength to bang and besides, he’s just not that efficient. Per Draft Express, he shot “a mediocre … 0.75 points per possession” in the post.

He’s a kid who’s willing to work which is best exemplified by his effort on the glass. But the weaknesses are too many and the skill too low to project out as an NBA starter. In a best-case scenario, he’d develop some type of mid-range game-to-three point game, guard fours and fives and mix in some small ball lineups. Absent that, he’s a less athletic Ed Davis or Thomas Robinson.

 

NBA Draft Big Board | Players 11-15

All artwork done by Andrew Maahs basemintdesign.com

Welcome to the third installment of the Dancing with Noah 2017 NBA Draft player analysis featuring players ranked 11 to 15 from our big board. Players one through five and six through ten have been covered already. This round covers Frank Ntilikina, Donovan Mitchell, Luke Kennard, OG Anunoby, and Justin Patton. And as the guy who wrote three of the scouting reports/analyses below, it’s crazy how quickly the quality of prospect shifts from semi-definition to mere outlines and visions based on potential. And it’s not to say none of the top-10 players are “specialists,” but as we shift lower, it seems some of these players have obvious specialty skills offset by weaknesses that lower their ceilings relative to players in the top-10. And as always, special thanks to my fellow writers Hamilton and Bug, and our talented designer, Maahs.

Fenrich: Frank Ntilikina

The only tape I’ve seen of Ntilikina (a difficult name to spell) is against teens in an U-18 European tournament. It’s nigh impossible to comprehend how skills translate from the high school or low-pro level to the NBA or how a 6’5” point guard with monster length translates. In some regards, I imagine this is how scouts felt in the late 1990s and early 2000s watching the likes of Eddy Curry feasting and beasting on 6’4” centers at the high school level.

Enough about Curry though. Ntilikina is super long with a balanced, if slow, catch and shoot jumper. His motion is consistent as he gets square and has strong balance. As that jumper is presently constituted, I don’t see him getting clean looks in the NBA unless he’s able to speed up his release – which he showed on occasion.

In the limited tape I viewed, I didn’t see a ton of footspeed quickness; particularly on the offensive end. However, most scouting reports which point to the defensive end as his greatest strength call out lateral quickness. With an unofficial wingspan near seven-feet, there’s potential to be a damn hellion on that end of the floor. This type of scouting report is applicable to a lot of youngsters as the skill-side hasn’t caught up with their physical gifts. Anunoby, Isaac, and Anigbogu come to mind. Also, there’s no guarantee the skill side does catch up.

I do wonder if he’s really a point guard or if he’ll slot into a combo guard capable of switching onto multiple positions at the NBA level. Bug compared him to a mini version of Thabo Sefolosha and I’m apt to agree with him though I may take it even a step further and extend a high-end comparison to Nicolas Batum. Both players are smart, with defensive versatility and offensive games better-suited as second or third (or further down) options.

Even with that all that defensive potential, I don’t think you draft Ntilikina with the expectation of immediate returns. He’s one of the younger players in this class and while he may be somewhat ready to make plays on the defensive end, the offensive side of the ball is going to take time to develop. If he’s entering his fourth season as a 22-year-old and he hasn’t ascended to starter-level, will a team still be invested? Will he maintain his confidence? These types of variable scenarios are realistic and will shape how adapts to the NBA over time.

Hamilton: Donovan Mitchell

To be quite honest, I didn’t see much Donovan Mitchell during the 2016-17 season. After watching some of his tape, I wish I had paid closer attention because he’s fun to watch. He’s fast (fastest ¾ court combine sprint since 2009), shifty, long-armed, and has incredible leaping ability. Anyone who has played JUCO ball knows this player type … It’s highly unlikely he makes it to Dwyane Wade’s level, but Wade has developed the template for the smallish slash-first scorer with supreme athletic ability in the modern NBA.

Mitchell appears to be a better three-point shooter than Wade was coming out of Marquette and that’s a good thing for him because he isn’t quite as big. He gets his shots off above and around bigger defenders and can make tough ones. His sturdy build along with great two-footed leaping and long arms should help him on drives and finishes in the NBA as well. He protects and hides the ball on drives using long strides and impressive body control to get to his spot. This is where he most reminds me of Wade.

On the downside, he appears to settle for jump shots a lot. Probably won’t ever be much of a PG. Not a great one-foot leaper, which will be somewhat limiting against NBA size. He looks awkward driving to his left and going up off one foot.

Talented enough to be a top player from this class, Mitchell projects as a starter on a bad team or a 2nd unit scorer on a good one. He plays with a flair that reminds of J.R. Smith, Nate Robinson or Nick Young. He’ll do some things that make you cringe and just as easily wow you on the next possession. And that’s what you live with when you have guys like JR, Nate Rob or Swaggy P. He is cut from their cloth. Irrational confidence. Pull-up 3s in transition. Highlight reel shot-making. 20+ points on any given night. Equally likely to be a total no-show.

Bug: Luke Kennard

Going into my analysis of Luke Kennard, I tried to keep an open mind as far as player comparisons go. I didn’t want to take the easy way out and compare him to fellow Duke alum J.J. Redick, but the more I watched Kennard, the more I saw a lot of the tools that make Redick successful in the NBA. The similarities go deeper than them being white guys from Duke that are elite shooters. Both players have wingspans that are shorter than their height, which can make it harder to get shots off in the paint and off-the-dribble.

Looking back at Redick’s Draft Express profile from 2006, they also had a lot of the same weaknesses and concerns coming into the draft. Does he have enough athleticism to be able to guard NBA players? Is he explosive enough to get to the rim, and when he does get in the paint, will the lack of length make it tough on him to score? These are all legitimate concerns, but Redick has given players with Kennard’s skill-set a blueprint to succeed in the NBA. He’s not going to be a franchise guy and #1 scorer for a team, but he can carve out a role on a team to help provide shooting and spacing, which is huge for the giving primary scorers room to operate.

He made a huge leap from his freshman to sophomore seasons. He went from 12-points on 32% three-point shooting to the second-leading scorer in the ACC at 19.5 points with 53-44-86 shooting percentages. The thing that jumps out to me when I watch Kennard’s tape from Duke is his basketball IQ and an extremely advanced triple threat, face up game. As noted earlier, Kennard doesn’t have overwhelming athleticism, but he makes up for it with crafty moves off shot fakes, step backs and pull-ups. His deadly jumper sets up his offense because the defense is forced to respect his shot. He plays within himself most of the time, and doesn’t try to make plays outside of his capabilities. His 1.6 turnovers-per-game is outstanding for a player that was asked to carry a lot of the offensive load for his team.

Overall, I think Kennard is a very good late lottery prospect that can help out a team that needs shooting. In today’s NBA with smaller lineups and less low post banging, a team can never have enough shooting. Not only will the team drafting him be getting a great shooter, they will also be getting a good basketball player that knows how to play the game with great pace and intelligence.

Fenrich: OG Anunoby

No one seems higher on OG Anunoby than The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks who lists him fourth on his big board. I’m nowhere near that high, but I’m also not as low as my guy Bug who sees him as an “offensive train wreck.”

I’m probably somewhere between those extremes, but closer to Bug than Tjarks. What stood out to me seeing Anunoby’s clips from Indiana were his tree trunk legs. I envision those quads being able to power him to success in a strong man competition pulling a semi-truck in neutral, but a more practical application would be defending both forward positions in the NBA. In addition to the that powerful lower body, Anunoby has a 7’2” wingspan on a 6’8” frame. (I’ve also seen this wingspan listed at 7’5”.)

While he appeared in just 16 games as a sophomore at Indiana due to what was reported as an ACL tear, Anunoby averaged over two blocks and two steals per-40 minutes. I don’t see him as some kind of Andrei Kirilenko defensive wunderkind, but the ceiling for his defensive impact is significant. Not to take away from his work ethic, but it helps to be built like a long pterodactyl-like wings.

Now to the bad: OG can’t shoot. He shot just 52% from the line for his college career and after nearly 45% from three as a freshman on just under one attempt-per-game, that number dropped to 31% on nearly three attempts as a sophomore. It’s not just that the percentages are bad, but his form and release are awful. His footwork is poor and even when the shot goes in, I find myself cringing. I saw no evidence of playmaking.

I tend to downplay the 45% he shot from three as a freshman because the mechanics are so poor. His shooting has scared me into seeing his offensive floor maybe a level above Dennis Rodman’s – which is just horrendous. He can absolutely evolve offensively, but he doesn’t look like he’ll ever be even a top-four option on offense. Coupled with the lack of playmaking and it’s enough to land him in the specialist category which isn’t the worst place to be as a 6’8” combo-forward who can potentially defend all five positions.

Fenrich: Justin Patton

Justin Patton, Harry Giles, Jonathan Isaac, Zach Collins, John Collins, Jarrett Allen, Ike Anigbogu. Who are these young, athletic giants roaming college and high school campuses across the United States? I watched their tapes, read their scouting reports and they’re all unique as snowflakes, complete with their own bags of strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies and TBD-futures.

Patton lands right in the middle of this batch; a nearly seven-foot red-shirt freshman from Creighton where he shot a ridiculous 67% from the field on 13 attempts-per-game. Per Draft Express and Synergy, that number kicked up to 75% around the rim. Those shots around the basket accounted for 77% of his total field goal attempts. 174 of his 200 makes came at the rim. This is on some DeAndre Jordan distribution.

But Patton is no Jordan; in both good and bad ways. He can hit the jumper as he was able to make eight threes on just 15 attempts. His mechanics are funky though and he shot just 52% from the line. In short, there are no guarantees. And that’s the good on the Jordan comparison.

The bad is that he doesn’t rebound anything like DeAndre; not even Texas A&M, raw, unpolished DJ. Where DJ averaged nearly 12-rebounds-per-40 as a freshman, Patton averaged less-than-ten. His per-40 rebounding average is lower than any of the bigs included on this big board. His rebounding rate (under 14%) was 81st in the country – for freshmen.

If he’s not ready to be a reliable jump shooter, with his current defensive ability (good lateral movement, but questionable technique), he’s a five-man in the NBA. And if he’s a center, then he has to be better as a rebounder.

Patton doesn’t have to be DJ anymore than Isaac has to be Kevin Garnett. But unless he’s able to maintain his efficiency from three at the NBA level or proves he can sharpen his defensive technique, then he’ll be a rotation player.

Or, if his copious physical gifts (7’3” wingspan, nearly 31” vertical at just a hair under seven-feet) and skills reach their potential, then he’s a guy who can impact the game on both sides of the ball. The same can be said of most of these big guys. The art for scouts and front offices is figuring out who has the desire and will to be better and then putting them in a position where they can grow at a pace that’s both natural and challenging. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

NBA Draft Big Board | Players 6-10

All art designed and created by Andrew Maahs twitter.com/BaseMintDesign

This is the third post in our 2017 NBA draft coverage. The previous two posts can be found here: Big Board, Players 1-5 deep dive. While there continues to be some consensus here (we’re all skeptical, but also kind of optimistic on Dennis Smith as we see his middle ground as Eric Bledsoe; which is pretty damn good), our comparisons for Jonathan Isaac against NBA players runs an intriguingly wide range. As always, special thanks to my fellow writers/scouts (Bug, Hamilton) and our super talented artist (Maahs).

Hamilton: De’Aaron Fox emerged as high lottery pick during a solid freshman season at Kentucky in which he averaged 16.7 points, four rebounds and 4.6 assists. His head-to-head dominance of consensus top-two prospect Lonzo Ball in the Sweet 16 propelled him to 2nd tier of the 2017 draft.

Fox has been compared to John Wall for his speed, and it’s possible he’s faster. He changes direction effortlessly without slowing down. While this is a tremendous asset, it can also be a problem. He has a tendency to get sped up in transition and half-court drives, ending up in no-man’s-land without a good shot, or a pass that sets up a shot for a teammate.

Many of Fox’s dimes come from relatively simple drop-off passes and dishes once he has gotten by his own man. His vision isn’t doesn’t appear to be on the level of other top PGs in this class. Playmaking PGs keep a probing dribble alive and change pace while doing so. I would like to see him change pace more than he does both in transition and in the half-court; against NBA level athletes, this is a must. Another problem for Fox as a PG in the NBA will be his well-documented poor shooting. It’s one thing to have a visually unappealing jumper if it goes in. That’s not the case here. Fox’s jump shot is broke and not always for the same reason. As Draft Express notes, sometimes he shoots on the way down, sometimes on the way up. He relies too much on upper body in his shot. Sometimes he floats to his left, sometimes his balance is pretty good. The angle of his elbow is always too narrow, which makes his release more of sling, or flick, than a jump shot. The good news is he’s well-aware of this fact and answered virtually every question in his DX interview in Los Angeles talking about improving his shooting. As it stands, his unreliable shot means defenders can go under on screens and his speed is somewhat nullified at the NBA level.

He also didn’t show much of a right hand at Kentucky and that’s another point of emphasis in his development. For me these factors call his position into question. I can see him developing into a slashing score-first combo guard. Defensively, he should have the ability to guard 1s and smaller 2s. If he can put on weight without compromising his speed, it could translate nicely on the defensive end of the floor for him. He’s not as polished as Markelle Fultz or Ball at this moment but his ceiling is high, and he gets great marks for his work ethic, intelligence, and character. Those things matter. When weaknesses are clear and fixable, a hard-working smart player can overcome. De’Aaron Fox may end up being a top-three player from this draft class, but what the finished product looks like is definitely to be determined.

Fenrich: Jonathan Isaac of Naples, Florida, late of Tallahassee, has a bit of that Anthony Davis thing going on where he played ball in high school as a combo forward before hitting a growth spurt and jumping up to his present height, 6’11”. Like Davis, there’s a natural fluidity in his athleticism. He doesn’t move like a lot of guys near seven feet tall though it seems like young people like Davis, Kevin Durant, Karl-Anthony Towns, among others, are becoming bigger and more athletic. Evolution indeed. When I look at Isaac’s tape though, I don’t see the same transcendent skill so prevalent in those other players I listed (to be fair, I didn’t see it in Towns either). That’s not really a knock on a player though.

Isaac moves great, he has unteachable length, appears comfortable without being the center of attention, has lateral mobility and quickness, can guard multiple positions. In short, he has a combination of physical ability and basketball skills that are ideal for today’s NBA where the ability to guard multiple positions and hit from deep are coveted. That latter piece is my curiosity with Isaac. In his one season at Florida State, Isaac took nearly three threes-per-game and hit close to 35% of them. For a guy who took just eight shots each night, to have nearly 40% of them come from deep is a curious stat.

That said, his three-ball and perimeter game come naturally. He has a nice jab step, but if he’s not an outside threat at the NBA level, I’m not confident how effective it will be. Speaking of using range to set up the driving attack, a favorite method of attack for the more developed bigs in the league, Isaac’s handle isn’t anywhere it needs to be to put the ball on the floor at the pro level. At its current level, I envision his pocket being picked or him being stripped by stronger, quicker defenders than what he’s accustomed to.

Concerns around his handle and how his jump shot translate aside, Isaac has the look of a natural pro defender. This is somewhat contingent on him getting stronger, but the length and agility coupled with the willingness to defend are a great foundation to build on. And I can’t imagine teams are looking at him expecting to be a number one or even number two option. That said, the NBA has a bad habit of miscasting players out of necessity. Just because Isaac can make the three and can occasionally put the ball on the floor doesn’t mean that’s what he should be doing. With any luck, he’ll land with a team patient enough to build on his copious defensive strengths and allow him to develop as a competent, but supporting offensive player.

Fenrich: Mark Medina of the OC Register wrote recently that Dennis Smith “had a 48-inch vertical.” The highest vertical in Draft Express’s deep database on NBA-prospect measurements is 46” from viral dunkster, D.J. Stephens. I’m not saying Medina got bad info or that someone is embellishing here, but the iota of possibility that Smith could possibly have a 48” vertical speaks to mind-numbing athleticism and explosiveness.

When I watched Smith’s tape from NC State, my first thoughts were “Baron Davis” and that he plays basketball like a football player. At 6’3”, 195lbs, Smith is built like a brick shithouse and attacks the rim like he’s relishing the contact. (As an aside, where I keep seeing Davis, it seems everyone else sees Steve Francis. I think it’s the thicker-looking build that makes me think Davis, but hey, Davis, Francis, whatever, he’s dunking on someone.) It’s one thing to see an explosive athlete dominate skinny college-level big men. It’s another thing to envision him careening into Draymond Green or Kristaps Porzingis or even Robin Lopez for the violent dunk smash.

Smith showed a serviceable jumper in the NCAA where he shot close to 36% on nearly two makes-per-game. That’s a good volume, but I’m lacking a bit of confidence in the shot. He can get the pull up jumper when he wants, but his balance often looks off. On the three, he doesn’t always hold his follow-through.

Similar to being a decent three-point shooter, but failing to instill confidence, Smith averaged over six assists as a freshman; a quality number, but watching his tape, there’s a glut of bad decisions made. It’s not just turnovers (he averaged nearly 3.5), but the shot selection and the seeming obliviousness of when to shoot or make a play. Smith was far too comfortable pulling up early in possessions when better options were available. Draft Express has what almost amounts to a blooper reel of Smith making the kind of decisions that drive coaches crazy (or get them fired).

Probably most disconcertingly, there are numerous questions around his character and leadership. There’s a consistent lack of effort on defense, boneheaded decisions on offense, straight up looking off teammates trying to set screens, and body language that often communicates disinterest. Some of these intangibles can maybe be attributed to his environment. Like Ben Simmons last season, NC State’s program was far from stable. They fired their coach in-season and struggled throughout the year. While Fultz was in a similar losing situation at the University of Washington (their coach was fired after the season), it was stable in that the coach had been in place for several years and, despite a series of one-and-done players, a culture had been established. This is a bit of a cop out for Smith, but still worth pointing out.

Despite all the concerns, I’m bullish on Smith. I acknowledge there’s a level of risk that goes with drafting him and believe he needs to land somewhere where veteran teammates or coaches can hold him accountable. In the top-ten picks of the draft, that’s not always an option. There’s a reason teams end up in the lottery. I don’t know if it’s better to have all the athleticism in the world and struggle with the mental aspects of the game, or, like his fellow draft class peer, Fox, have excellent athleticism with a great head on your shoulders. And even though I ranked Smith higher because the upside is so massive, as I write this, I can’t help but think that a good player with great character may be the better route.

Fenrich: I get the urge to see in Markkanen, a seven-foot, sweet jump shooting giant from the Nordics, a younger, modern version of German great, Dirk Nowitzki, but I don’t see it. I never scouted Dirk, never saw any tape of him back in the summer of 1998. So I went ahead and found this clip of Dirk going against America’s finest teens at the Nike Hoop Summit of ’98. And there are a few things that pop:

  • The announcers were comparing Dirk to Detlef Schrempf
  • Watching Dirk back then, you can see the badass, but aside from say, LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Durant, I can’t think of many guys you’d scout as an amateur and say, “He’s going to be a top-10 all-time scorer, MVP, and NBA champion.” As good as Dirk was in this clip, I don’t think anyone expected him to be the guy he’s become.
  • Lauri Markkanen is not Dirk

But Markkanen is a lot of other things. He’s a big kid with a basketball pedigree. His dad player for Kansas and the Finnish national team. His mom was also a national team player. He’s a legit seven-footer with a big, broad-shouldered frame that occasionally looks even bigger because he wore big t-shirts under his jersey at Arizona. In his single season in Tucson, he shot 42% from three on over four attempts-per-game. His range extends out to the NBA level and he appears to have a strong base. He does have a little hitch when he catches on spot up threes where he’ll catch and bring the ball down before elevating into his rhythm. It’s a small thing and he’s such a great shooter that I doubt it matters but when thinking about a vastly more difficult level of competition, these split seconds matter.

What the three ball opens up is the dribble drive as NBA bigs are often challenged to close out on shooters with a hand up and still defend the dribble drive. Not convinced he’ll be able to put it on the floor at first, but it should be something he develops.Sticking with the dribble drive, it was difficult to discern his ability to pass off the drive. Can he develop to the point where he can put it on the floor against a closeout defender, make a move, see the help and then find the open man? This is the type of skill level that takes a player from Channing Frye rotation-guy to Ryan Anderson-starter or better.

The big differentiator with Anderson though, is that Markkanen is a legit seven-footer while Anderson is around 6’10”. Neither player has great length, but based on those broad shoulders and average athleticism, Markkanen has the potential to be a load around the basket though that appears to be unlikely given his current stylistic approach.

Defensively, I’m not expecting much. To borrow from Jeff Van Gundy, so much of a defense is about effort. Is he willing to put in the hard work and effort to try on the defensive end or is he content to shoot seven threes each night? From the materials I’ve seen, there’s no indication he won’t put the work in, but it’s difficult to project at this point.

What’s most intriguing about Markkanen is that he’s likely the best shooter in this entire draft class. Being seven-feet and having that type of stroke automatically lifts the floor to Channing Frye-type levels. Even with the league evolving in terms of its size/skill versatility, Markkenen has the potential to be among the best shooting big men in the league. And that designation, “best shooting big man,” can mean anything from Channing Frye to Dirk Nowitzki – even though he won’t be Dirk.

Bug: If you’ve never watched Zach Collins play, you might look at the stats and wonder why he’s a projected lottery pick. Ten points, six rebounds, and only 17 minutes-per-game…what’s the fuss about?

Luckily for those of us that can’t keep our eyes open for those late night west coast games, we got a good look at Zach Collins in the NCAA Tournament. He had stretches during in March where he was the best player on the floor, with potential oozing from every orifice.

The correlation between what you see on the court and his stats don’t quite match up though. Why does such a skilled player only play 17 minutes-per-game, and only average ten points and six rebounds? We could blame it on the high foul rate that kept him off the floor, or we could claim that his youthful status on a veteran team held his minutes back. Either way you slice it, there is a mystique about Collins. Everything you see from him just screams “can’t miss prospect,” but the elephant in the room will always be “why did he play so little?”

Based on what I’ve seen from the tournament, and various clips, he has immense potential. He hits the three at a 47% clip, blocks four shots-per-game/per-40 minutes. The inside/outside game brings Pau Gasol to mind. He can bang down in the post, but also take it outside and knock down open jumpers. He compliments the offensive game with more-than-sufficient rim protection. When put in situations where he is required to guard smaller players, Collins shows the lateral movement to not be a liability in pick-and-rolls with good lateral movement for a seven-footer.

Using the term “leap of faith” could be applied to most prospects, but that phrase is the slogan for Collins. I see him play and get excited, but the 17 minutes of playing time is always the footnote. Can he extrapolate his impressive stats over a full game, or did he see limited minutes for a reason? We’ll find out soon enough, but based on what I see on film, it is worth the gamble to make Collins a lottery pick.

2017 NBA Draft Big Board | Players 1-5

The charts below are pretty straightforward to read with each prospect’s ceiling, middle ground, floor, red flag and player type projection (all-timer, HOF, all-star, above average starter, average starter, below average starter, rotation player, and bench player) ranked my me (Fenrich), Andrew Maahs (also the creator of the fine graphics below), Bug Foster, and Hamilton. This is the second in a series of 2017 draft-related posts. The first of which is a top-20 big board with an explanation on how woefully incomplete a top-20 big board is in the modern NBA; it can be found here.

All artwork by Andrew Maahs http://www.twitter.com/basemintdesign

 

Fenrich: My Markelle Fultz relationship feels more complex than it needs to be and I can blame myself, Don MacLean and my buddy Matt for that. Myself, for not trudging a couple miles from my apartment to UW’s Hec Ed Pavilion to see Fultz play in-person. MacLean, for going overboard questioning Fultz’s intensity in some random game against an Arizona-based opponent and doing it in that oh-so-MacLean tone. And Matt, a Huskies season-ticket holder, for banging the Fultz drum in my ear all season. As I’ve gone through this Big Boarding process, the combination of warts on other players and the relatively unblemished game of Fultz has created a widening gap. The kid just turned 19 a few days ago and his measurements (6’4″ with a nearly 6’10” wingspan) make me think Dwyane Wade (measured nearly 6’5″ in shoes with a nearly 6’11” wingspan back in his pre-draft camp) as another big guard predisposed to scoring, but more than proficient in the ways of playmaking. That said, his game is nothing like the strength and force-fueled attack of Wade. His measured unfolding is more Brandon Roy or James Harden, more languid, deliberate, and paced. That he’s just 19 with an already advanced understanding of timing, great length, and a three-point accuracy north of 40%, and Fultz, for me, is the most NBA ready prospect in this class with a higher ceiling than any of his peers.

All artwork by Andrew Maahs http://www.twitter.com/basemintdesign

Bug: I’m a believer in the theory the great Isiah Thomas put forth in Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball, “the secret to basketball is that it’s not about basketball.” The secret to Lonzo Ball’s game is not about the stats, it’s about being a floor general that puts his team in the best position to be successful. Zo doesn’t have stats that jump off the page, but his presence on the court instantly transformed a floundering UCLA program into an offensive juggernaut. It’s easy to get lost in the buffoonery of his father, Lavar Ball, but the talent of the kid is undeniable. Yes, he has an ugly shot, but if it goes in (41% from 3 on 194 attempts at UCLA), who cares? Everyone immediately thinks of Jason Kidd when watching Lonzo: big guard, great decision making, makes everyone around him better. In addition to the Kidd-like qualities, Zo can also go up and finish above the rim with ease. There is much debate about who should be the #1 pick in this year’s draft, but for me, I’m taking the point guard with the infectious style of play that uplifts an entire team. It’s not just about basketball, this kid will impact the entire culture of the organization that drafts him.

All artwork by Andrew Maahs http://www.twitter.com/basemintdesign

Bug: With the way the NBA is evolving to a smaller, up-tempo game, Josh Jackson seems to be a perfect for today’s game. When you watch him play, the thing that stands out is the variety of ways he can impact the game. He is able to do a bit of everything on the court, both offensively and defensively. The way Kansas used him ranged from post ups to slashing to running the break and giving the ball up to teammates for easy finishes. Mr. Jackson also shot a respectable 37.8% from 3 during his freshman season on one of best teams in the nation. While his offensive game has a good foundation and room for growth, the thing that has many scounts salivating is the equally tantilizing potential on defense. The kid flat out gets after it on the defensive end (1.7 spg & over a block a game), while also possessing the ability to guard 2-3 positions. The lackluster FT shooting (57% at KU) and unconventional shot mechanics could hold him back early in his career, but his impact in other facets of the game will get him a fair share of floor time as a rookie. Versatility is the name of the game for the modern NBA wing, and Jackson has it in spades.

All artwork by Andrew Maahs http://www.twitter.com/basemintdesign

Hamilton: Playing on national TV twice-a-week made it easy to catch Malik Monk in action. There was plenty to watch too. On a typically loaded team Monk routinely stood out. His incendiary offensive outbursts were certainly attention-grabbing (30 pts in 2nd half points vs Florida; 47 vs UNC on 16-28 FG). This wasn’t lost on many folks as he was named 1st team All-SEC. He plays with a sense of timing and understands when his team needs the offensive lift he’s always happy to provide. While his measurements aren’t great for a SG (6’3, 6’6 wingspan) he makes up for it with a quick release and legit NBA leaping ability. The release on his shot is consistent while the rotation and arc of the ball give most of his attempts a chance. This is evident in his 40% from 3 on 8 attempts per game. As most modern small-ish guards, he showed nice touch on his floater and uses a quick deciesive first step to get to the paint and get it off. Looks to get all the way to the rim for the dunk when he can do it off one or two dribbles. Whether he can do that against NBA defense with his slighter build remains to be seen. That quick first step from a standstill allows him to create space for pull up jump shots off the dribble. As most right-handed players, he’s more comfortable going to his left when shooting, but he’s very capable pulling up going right. He showed the range to shoot off the bounce from deep and should be able to eventually be a very reliable NBA 3 point shooter. Has a decent amount of what I like to call slickness. Slickness is a spectrum with Harry Barnes on the low end, while Jamal Crawford is the slickest. Monk leans toward JC at this point, which is a good thing. This is an area I would expect him to spend significant time on by developing more compex dribble moves and attacking tight gaps going toward the basket … Doesn’t strike me as much of a combo guard at this point, and I have my doubts he ever will be one. He’s far more comfortable coming off screens or attacking off a catch than running high pick and roll or finding open guys on his drive. WIth a great shot and relentlessness on the attack, Monk should be a good pro. How good may be very situational. Playing alongside the right PG may matter, which isn’t necessarily a knock on him. In other words, I’m not sure how he’d fair in Philly during the Ben Simmons PG experiment. But a John Wall or Mike Conley type would set Monk up nicely (to be fair those guys would set me up nicely). He seems to really enjoy playing baskebtall and competing, which will serve him well in development. It may take a couple years for Monk to figure out how to use his skills effectively in the NBA but I suspect he will do that and have a nice career.

All artwork by Andrew Maahs http://www.twitter.com/basemintdesign

Fenrich: I have so much confusion about Jayson Tatum. He has a ton of offensive skill and a game that’s well-developed beyond his 19 years. He’s comfortable in the post with a turn-and-face game and pretty much dogged out college defenders there. His range extends out to NBA three-point distances, even if the consistency isn’t there yet — he shot just 34% from deep on four attempts-per-game. The mechanics on his jumper look good and his form doesn’t breakdown much. Tatum looks the part of an NBA wing with his size, length, and athleticism. And maybe that’s part of the problem. His game reminds one almost immediately of Rudy Gay though Gay’s longer (7’3″ vs. 6’11” wingspan) with more bounce. There are hints of a Carmelo Anthony-type attacker which is seen in that post and face-up game. Tatum doesn’t have nearly the strength of a young Melo, but the refinement is there. JZ Mazlish of Wingspan Addicts did a great job of identifying the crux of the Tatum conundrum of the problem with scouting Tatum. It is a break in the value placed by traditional scouting approaches against the progressive approach of a numbers/analytics based community. If Tatum spent a decent chunk of his time at Duke playing power forward where he was able to abuse slower defenders, it doesn’t appear something that will translate against NBA fours. So if he’s a natural three, can he guard starting wings on a nightly basis or even score against them? At a first glance, the answer seems to be no. He looks like he’ll be better-suited as a rotation forward who can play the four in some small ball lineups. The skill is there, but the ceiling looks low and if I re-did my big board rankings, he’d likely drop down a bit. For some reason, the more I see and think about him, the more he becomes the wing version of fellow Dukie, Jahlil Okafor — a talented offensive player who probably would’ve been better-suited for the NBA of the 1990s.

2017 Dancing with Noah NBA Draft Big Board

Malcolm Brogdon, Josh Richardson, Norman Powell, Jordan Clarkson, Nikola Jokic, Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, Jae Crowder. Since the 2012 draft, the previous players have been taken in the second round, well behind players who are less effective as NBA pros. The draft isn’t a crap shoot, but with a crush of 19-year-old freshmen leaving college every season (11 of the top prospects in 2017 are freshmen, five of the top eight were freshmen in 2016, 11 of the top 13 in 2015, six of the top seven in 2014), the sample size to scout these players against top competition in a competitive setting is small.

Against that backdrop, I’ve teamed up with a few friends (Bug, Hamilton, and Maahs) to create a Big Board of the top-20 prospects in this year’s draft and over the next four weeks, scout these players in a series of posts. I lay out the above premise, that projecting NBA prospects has become an exercise that runs 90-players deep, to show the depth to which the league goes now in finding productivity and value. In the 2016-17 season, 88 different players who saw time on an NBA court were classified as rookies. The number was 73 in ’16, 82 in ’15, 78 in ’14, 78 in ’13. The draft is just 60-picks so what we’re seeing is close to an entire round worth of new players coming into the league each season.

The introduction of G-League-to-NBA team affiliations is up to 22 for 2016-17 and will rise to 28 by 2019. Combine that with two-way contracts (creates two additional roster spots and adds both team and player benefits that allow G-League players to make more money while giving the team flexiblity in bringing a player up to the NBA team without having to commit to an NBA salary until after 45 days – stipulations apply) that were created with the latest CBA agreement and there are more domestic pro basketball opportunities available.

All of the above means that the 20-player big board we’ve put together below is not comprehensive. We’re four people, three of us have children, and we’re all gainfully employed. Effective scouting, even with the copious tools that Draft Express puts out, isn’t just about identifying talent. The combination of team and scheme, opportunity, chemistry, player commitment and discipline – it’s a complex equation with few, if any, guarantees. And even if a team lands on a player and tries to cultivate him through the G-League, there’s still no guarantee they’ll figure out how to best tap that player’s potential in their particular system. Hassan Whiteside and Seth Curry are examples of players who were both late NBA bloomers and squandered by NBA teams. Whiteside was drafted 33rd in 2010, found himself out of the league in 2013 and is arguably a top-five player from his draft class. Curry wasn’t even drafted and played on four teams before latching on in Dallas as a productive member of NBA society this past season.

Caveats and qualifications aside, at the aggregate level, there’s not much variation from Draft Express or The Ringer’s big boards. This isn’t to say there’s not individual deviation, but collectively that our views converge with status quo. As we get into deeper analysis over the next few weeks, we’ll go into more player-specific detail. And because a cap of 20 prospects is woefully inadequate, where time and life allow, we’ll explore deeper cuts like DJ Wilson, Jawun Evans, Semi Ojeleye, Kobi Simmons, Sindarius Thornwell, Monte Morris and others.

Dancing with Noah Draft Preview – Part II

This is part two of a three-part series on the NBA draft. Part one can be found here.

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Skal Labissiere – 7’0”, 216lbs, 20-years-old, Bug

Labissiere came in with a lot of hype as one of the prized jewels in another star-studded Kentucky recruiting class. Coming into the season, Skal was projected as a top-3 pick for the 2016 draft, but things didn’t quite work out as planned for the Haitian-born big man. The tumultuous season that ensued leaves us where we are at now, with Skal clinging on to be in the top-10 discussion of this year’s draft. When you watch his highlights, you see a very athletic 7-footer that has a beautiful shooting motion and a nice jump hook that he can finish with either hand. But, when you watched his college games against other top teams, he is barely noticeable on the floor. He probably isn’t ready to contribute right away for an NBA team, but recent workouts have the scouts raving about his skill set and upside. Coach Cal didn’t use a player correctly to maximize their strengths? Where have we heard that before (Karl Anthony-Towns)? Based on his projected draft range of 11-15, I think he would be a great fit for the rebuilding Chicago Bulls. Chicago is most likely going to lose both Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah this offseason, so the center position is going to be a position of need for them this offseason. The Bulls just traded hometown hero Derrick Rose to the Knicks, and the team is looking to get younger and more athletic. Skal would give them a developmental player that can grow while the recently acquired Robin Lopez handles the starting duties for the next year or two.

Floor: Anthony Randolph

Ceiling: LaMarcus Aldridge

Jaylen Brown – 6’7”, 222lbs, 19-years-old, Fendo

Jaylen Brown likes chess and envisions himself as a king and others as pawns. This is just one of the concerns that add complexity to the 6’7” Cal-product with great googly athleticism offset by occasional Hardenistic defensive lapses. Brown slots into that second tier made up of picks 3-8 which has devolved into an unpredictable sellers’ market. Physically, he’s ready. I have no doubt he could step into a Pro-Am and hold his own with NBA players, but like Lamar Odom said of Javale McGee, “It’s called basketball, not run and jump.” Which isn’t to compare Brown to McGee, but to accentuate his hyper physical skills against still-developing game skills. Brown has a 7’0” wingspan, going north-to-south he picks up a hell of a head of steam and looks to be able to finish with both hands. Even at a young age, he’s figured out how to effectively utilize that athleticism as he attempted over 9 FTAs/40 minutes which was the second best in DraftExpress’s top-100. On the opportunity side, his handle and ability to finish in traffic are suspect though these should improve significantly with experience and pro tutelage. Dimensionally and athletically he reminds me of Shawn Marion, but Marion was uncanny defensively and on the glass; areas of current weakness for Brown. It’s not that he can be Marion or even should be, but the comparison is instructive as a way to see how those abilities can be tapped – particularly in the current NBA where defensive versatility has become a necessity. And while he’s long, he doesn’t play big which makes me wonder just how well he’ll be able to defend big, long players or how well he’ll hit the glass. There’s a hell of a player in here somewhere and he should have a high floor based on athleticism alone, but another guy who was 6’7” and 220-some-odd-pounds was a guy by the name of Kedrick Brown. He played on three teams in four years and was finished in the NBA by 23 after Boston picked him 13th overall in the 2001 draft. Somewhere between Marion and Kedrick, maybe we’ll find Jaylen.

Dejounte Murray – 6’5”, 170lbs, 19-years-old, Fendo

When we started this project a couple weeks ago, Murray was pegged as high 10 and as low as 35. I spent this past winter watching his confidence and the confidence of his teammates in him rise game-over-game. He’s a long-limbed 6’5” with a slashing and attacking ability that feels like it falls from the same tree as fellow Seattleite Jamal Crawford. He’s not ridiculously quick, fast or strong, but none of that limits him from getting into the lane or getting his shot off. He attempted 18 free throws in a game against Arizona State and averaged over 7 FTAs/game in March. When he’s not getting hacked, DX cites Synergy’s data to highlight that Murray made more floaters than any other prospect in this year’s draft. He’s the kind of player you’ll watch and ask how in the hell did he just do what he did. There’s a craftiness to his game that exceeds his 19 years. Where he excels at creating his own looks, he was maybe reckless or out-of-control in his playmaking ability as he averaged over three turnovers/game. That’s not to say he can’t pass, but he was thrust into being UW’s primary playmaker and experienced the ups (4+ assists) and downs (3+ TOs) that came with it. He’s not a great shooter (48% TS, 29% from 3) and despite averaging nearly two steals/game, he’s more of an opportunistic defender than a lock-down guy. Despite being four inches shorter and lacking the physical gifts UW teammate Marquese Chriss possesses, Murray out-rebounded his teammate and is one just four freshman since the 1993-94 season to average 16-points, 6-rebounds, and 4-assists-per-game which speaks to his significant versatility and ability to impact the game in multiple ways. He’s not quite Jamal Crawford; doesn’t shoot or handle the ball quite as well, but he has the tools to rebound and defend in ways Crawford never could, it’s just a matter of bending his game that way. He’s probably closer to Michael Carter-Williams in that he can rebound well for his position and is comfortable running a team offensively, but significantly lacking MCW’s defensive commitment. Ideally he’d land in a spot with a well-established coach and front office not facing a “win now” mandate. In the 13-18 range, that looks like Denver and Detroit with the Pistons being a better fit as some of Murray’s skills are redundant alongside Mudiay though SVG prefers veterans off the bench.

Deyonta Davis – 6’10”, 230lbs, 19-years-old, Bug

Deyonta is the rare one-and-done player that came into his freshman season with very little hype as a potential 2016 draft pick. Davis was expected to come in and pay his dues under legendary coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State, while gradually earning a bigger role on the team over 2-3 years. He only averaged 18mpg his freshman season with averages of 7.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg, so the stats don’t jump out off the page by any means. But, the thing that has the scouts intrigued with Davis is his size and defensive ability. He’s equipped with a sturdy frame at 6’10”, 240. As a Spartan he averaged just under two blocks a game (1.8 bpg) in limited minutes, and shows the traits of a plus rebounder by getting off of the floor quickly on 2nd and 3rd jumps to go get the ball. Scouts were pleasantly surprised by the development of his jumper in workouts. He didn’t get an opportunity to do anything outside of the paint at Michigan State, so adding a consistent mid-range shot to his game could make him a versatile player that teams covet in today’s NBA. Davis has the physical tools to play the 4 or 5 spots, and the ability to take on a guard during a switch in pick and roll situations; another plus in the league right now. Davis’ draft slot will most likely be in the 9-17 range along with a cluster of other high-upside big men. He could be a fit in Toronto if the Raptors feel like the Biyombo bidding war is going to be too rich for their blood during free agency. Phoenix at 13 is another possible destination, but it depends on what they do with their first pick at #4. Davis could help Phoenix replenish some of the versatility that they lost by moving on from the Morris twins.

Floor: Ed Davis

Ceiling: Tristan Thompson/Hasaan Whiteside hybrid

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Dragan Bender – 7’1”, 225lbs, 18-years-old, Maahs

After riding the bench for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel (13 MPG, 4.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG) it’s tough to get a true analysis on the 18-year-old Croatian prospect. Like the Cheick Diallo’s of the draft, scouts are projecting what type of player Bender could become with little to no game action. In the limited time Bender was on the floor, he showed the ability to chase shooters and switch ball screens. That alone doesn’t sound like much but when you add in his height (7’1″), an improved shooting ability (37.5% 3PT) and a high basketball IQ, you’re left with a very intriguing stretch 4 for today’s NBA. While an average-to-below-average athlete, Bender plays with a fluidity that is rare for a player his size. The size combined with a willingness to pass has some comparing Bender to his boyhood idol Toni Kukoc. Many will inevitably compare Bender to Kristaps Porzingis — Bender comes over as youngest player in the draft who will need a few years to add strength to his 225 pound frame and further develop his game, before any “Zinger” comparisons can be made. He’s probably 2-3 years away from making meaningful contributions to an NBA team. Teams like Pelicans, Suns, Kings and Bucks would be ideal fits as Bender could immediately take on a lesser bench role. If he climbs up to #3, it’s reasonable to think that Bender could contribute to Boston in a similar role as Jonas Jerebko or Kelly Olynyk.

Floor: a mobile Andrea Bargnani

Ceiling: Detlef Schrempf / Toni Kukoc hybrid

Cheick Diallo – 6’9”, 220lbs, 19-years-old, Maahs

Averaging 3.0 PTS, 2.5 REB and playing 7.5 minutes per game is not what you’d typically expect for a player being projected in the middle to late first round of the NBA draft. But thanks to the good ol’ National Collegiate Athletic Association, Cheick Diallo missed the first 5 games at Kansas while the organization investigated his academic eligibility. With National Championship aspirations and a frontcourt full of upperclassman, Bill Self didn’t have the patience to let Diallo endure the necessary growing pains to develop throughout the year. Measuring in at 6’9″ with a 7’5″ wingspan, Diallo was impressive at the combine during the five-on-five session, scoring 18 points with 4 rebounds and 4 blocks. With a similar performance at the 2015 Nike Hoops Summit and MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game, GM’s still remain high on the athletic forward. Raw and offensively limited at this stage, it will take a few years for Diallo to develop any resemblance of a post-game. As a high-energy guy, he should be able to contribute on the defensive end, but his offensive limitations will determine the length and success of his career. Only 19, Diallo will be a project for whatever team selects him on draft night. Projected anywhere from 15-25, his ideal landing spot would be with a team like Boston or Detroit, where he could learn offensive and defensive schemes — something that prevented him from seeing significant time at Kansas.

Floor: Tyrus Thomas

Ceiling: Kenneth Faried / Bismack Biyombo

Jakob Poeltl – 7’1”, 242lbs, 20-years-old, Fendo

I watched Poeltl pummel UW twice this season (29-10-4 then 23-6) then watched Domantas Sabonis and Gonzaga destroy Poeltl in the NCAA Tournament. I thought I knew what to expect and was high on the 7’1” Austrian, but the more film I see, the more concerned I am about his lack of explosiveness and ability to finish against pro centers. For a player his size, he runs the floor well with good balance and coordination. He’s decently mobile and his footwork is OK. With his size and comparable length, it’s easy to envision him learning the nuance of the NBA’s verticality rules and being an average-to-above-average rim protector. What kept jumping out to me was his complete lack of leaping power; particularly on the offensive end where he prefers little scoop shots or hooks and somehow plays below the rim. Even at 7’1”, he’s not taking it to the basket with any aggressiveness. The only time he seems comfortable attacking the rim is when he’s able to get a full head of steam and that won’t happen much at the pro level. For post players lacking elite length or explosion, a full arsenal of post moves is the best fallback, but in the clips I’ve seen and analysis I’ve read, he’s lacking here as well. He’s a competent passer and can pick out cutters, but the rest of his offensive game leaves me wanting more. In mocks he’s landing in the 8-13 range and could fit in well with Atlanta and their newly-acquired 12th pick where Budenholzer would likely play him to his strengths without expecting more than the big Austrian is capable of providing.

Malik Beasley – 6’5”, 190lbs, 19-years-old, Hamilton

Malik Beasley is an explosive athlete who shoots it well from the outside and attacks the basket in transition. At 6’5 and 190 he’s not undersized, but certainly needs to get stronger. That shouldn’t be a problem as he won’t turn 20 until after Thanksgiving. His effort level on both ends of the half court and transition is impressive. He has a chance to be a nice two way player in the NBA. Physically, he reminds of Jamal Crawford, long and lanky with limbs that bend as he needs them to. He’ll need to improve his handle in order to maximize his ability to play pick and roll and finish in the paint or get to the line. What’s most notable is how hard he plays. We’ve seen so many guys with high skill level that don’t have the fight in them. Playing hard on every possession is a talent and it’s been enough for some players to stick around longer than they probably should. If his in-game effort carries over to the practice floor and the weight room, Beasley could be a steal in the 15-20 range. The Pacers could use a young wing when the inevitably decide to part ways with Monta Ellis. With Paul George in his prime, adding a young SG who may develop into a starting SG makes sense. Beasley also happens to be from Georgia so the Hawks at 21 might also want to consider him. Their perimeter players are aging (Korver, Thabo) or may move on (Bazemore). Once again, in today’s NBA you can’t have enough wing players who can shoot the ball and give effort on defense.

Comparison: A more athletic JJ Redick Or maybe: Anthony Morrow

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Domantas Sabonis – 6’10”, 231lbs, 20-years-old, Fendo

Sabonis is the anti-Poeltl for me. He plays with a high motor and intensity and attacks the boards like Tristan Thompson but with less spring. Fundamentally, he’s sound in a way you’d expect the son of a legend like Arvydas to be. He keeps the ball high, can finish the jump hook with either hand, and is comfortable shooting from range though he defaults to more of a set shot which could be harder to get off against quicker, longer PFs in the NBA. He also has big, strong hands which he puts to rebounding and passing the ball; which he palms extremely easily. For a player his age, he’s impressively decisive and confident with his post moves which ideally will help counteract his biggest perceived physical limitation – short arms. Current pros of similar height and wingspan are Cody Zeller, the Plumlees, and Jason Smith – not exactly the sample set you want to compare favorably to. Seeing players like Draymond Green, Tristan Thompson, and the entire OKC team excel with great length, it’s easy to feel a pang of anxiety that Sabonis has relatively short arms and there’s not a damn thing he can do about it. But his combination of relentlessness and skill are so good that I still rank him high and as an NBA-ready guy. Projecting at the 12-18 range (like Poelt) he makes a lot of sense to Atlanta at 12 or the Bulls at 14 as a PF/C with some strange concoction part Pau Gasol and part Kenneth Faried.

Brice Johnson – 6’9”, 230lbs, 22-years-old (on June 27th)

At 22-years-old, Brice Johnson is one of the oldest and most experienced players in this year’s draft class. It took some time for his game to develop, but he broke out in a big way during his senior season for NCAA Tournament runner-up, North Carolina, with averages of 17ppg and 10.5rpg. Johnson is a freakish athlete with a high motor. He projects as a high-energy rim runner in the NBA and plays above the rim. He excels at finishing in transition and has a nice touch around the hoop in the paint. The biggest knocks on Johnson, other than his age, would be his wiry 210-pound frame and his jump shot. You can get by with that frame in college, but this is the NBA son! To Johnson’s credit, he bulked up to 225 at one point, but it zapped too much of his athleticism and he dropped back down. He did almost all of his damage at UNC in the paint, so it will be interesting to see if he can develop a consistent jump shot to avoid the beating he will most likely take in the paint. Projecting as a late first rounder, Johnson will probably have a good chance to land on a competitive playoff team. After watching the Thunder make the Spurs look old and slow in the playoffs, San Antonio could use a good influx of youth and athleticism. Johnson could give the Spurs some energy and rebounding off the bench. If teams decide to pass late in the first, he could also be an option for the Celtics with one of their 5 second round picks.

Floor: Ed Davis

Ceiling: Shawn Marion

Juan Hernangomez – 6’9”, 220lbs, 20-years-old, Bug

While many young players in the Euroleague have to bide their time riding the bench before they can earn meaningful minutes, Hernangomez was a big contributor playing just under 24 minutes-per-game last season. Based on recent workout footage that has surfaced, Hernangomez has a nice looking shot and moves well for a 6’9” guy. The knock on him is that he is a bit of a SF/PF tweener. Over the last two seasons, he has increased his 3P% from 25% to 34%, so he is trending towards a stretch-4 from an NBA perspective. He’ll need to add some strength to handle the 4 position defensively in the NBA, but you could probably say the same thing for most young players. It’s tough to project where he will go in the draft with a wide range of projections anywhere from 15-40. Based on their history, Hernangomez has Spurs written all over him. He’s also an overseas stash candidate for the two teams that have three first round picks, Boston and Phoenix. Juan’s brother, Willy, was drafted by the Knicks last year, and decided to stay in Spain with Real Madrid this past season…Juan may do the same.

Tyler Ulis – 5’9”, 160lbs, 20-years-old, Maahs

If only. A floor general, leader, court vision, puts his teammates in positions to succeed — what else do you want in a PG? But only standing 5’9″ and 160 lbs, Tyler Ulis lacks the size to make the same impact at the next level. Ulis could be a top-5 pick, if only he was a few inches taller. With an NBA filled roster the last two seasons at Kentucky, Ulis was a pass-first point guard, the kind that teammates love playing with. He demonstrated the ability to direct traffic on the fly and get players in the right spots in order to maximize scoring opportunities on each possession, similar to Chris Paul. A pesky defender, Ulis routinely guarded opposing point guards the length of the court — making it hard for the opposition to initiate their offense. While having good quickness and defensive instincts, Ulis will struggle guarding in the half court, as NBA guards use their size on post ups or to create space, if only he was four inches taller. Offensively, he’s shifty and gets to his spots easily on the floor, but struggles to create space for his jumper, if only he were a few inches taller. OK, OK, I think you get the idea. Ulis possesses many qualities of a prototypical point guard but the lack of size and strength at the next level will be a challenge for him. Only shooting 34% from 3PT, Ulis will need to improve his shooting to compensate for his lack of size. Add in a hip issue that may require surgery down the line, you have prospect that could be selected anywhere between 15-40 in the draft. Playing with an up-tempo team could help hide some of his size deficiencies. With Derrick Rose gone and Jose Calderon off the books in 2107, a team like the Bulls would be a good fit for Ulis.

Floor: TJ Ford

Ceiling: Muggsy Bogues/Chris Paul hybrid (it felt weird typing that)

2016 Dancing with Noah Draft Preview – Part I

Jonathan Givony from Draft Express was a guest on Adrian Wojnarowski’s The Vertical podcast earlier this week and he kicked off by saying that in the 13 years he’s been covering the draft, every year he knows less. The 2016 All-Star game featured players drafted 15th (Kawhi Leonard), 35th (Draymond Green), 24th (Kyle Lowry), 47th (Paul Millsap), and 60th (Isaiah Thomas) – so by some measure, five of the top-24 players in the league (nearly 21%) were drafted 15th or later. The draft is often referred to as an inexact science, but given the above information and the fact that we’ve seen Anthony Bennett, Greg Oden, and Andrea Bargnani picked number-one overall in the previous 10 drafts, one wouldn’t be considered a mad man to call the yearly process a shot in the dark (but who’s to blame for Bennett?). Even draft gurus like DX’s Mike Schmitz copped to being sky high on Suns big man Alex Len during the 2013 draft cycle. The science and analysis can be spot on while the results can be the slippery banana peel of your favorite mock draft.

With all that in mind, my compadres and I are drifting away from the impossible-to-predict mock draft (I believe we accurately guessed two out of 30 first round picks in 2015 which is a rate so poor even Harrison Barnes can gloat), and focusing on a player-centric analysis that explores 36 players, their skills, and potential fits based on projected pick ranges. We’ve written far too many words and don’t agree on everything, but once upon a time someone deemed Michael Olowakandi the top choice in an NBA draft that featured multiple Hall of Famers so maybe consensus is overrated. This is part one of three, so settle in with your favorite beverage and a bag of chips; the future is waiting:

2016 draft p1

Ben Simmons – 6’10”, 239lbs, 20-years-old (on July 20th), Maahs

Sixers Outlook: After a freshman season filled with inconsistent shooting, character concerns and a lack of winning, Simmons has gone from presumably to possibly being the #1 pick. It’s hard to see how any of these questions will be immediately answered after being selected by the Sixers. Projecting as a point-forward, it will be a challenge for Brett Brown to maximize Simmons’ skill set with Sam Hinkie’s “process” filled roster. While the log jam of big men is not ideal, Brown could possibly divide the Embiid/Okafor/Noel trio among the first and second unit. And should Dario Saric (a Toni Kukoc-type player) come over, the Sixers could create some offensive continuity with both units being run through the point forward position. If the Sixers don’t trade any of their centers, they’ll still have approximately $65 million in 2016-17 cap space to surround Simmons with the necessary backcourt shooting. Brett Brown has known Simmons since he was born and coached his dad in Australia. If anyone can establish a rapport with the young Australian born player, Brett Brown is the guy.

Floor: Andre Iguodala with a sprinkle of Giannis Antetokounmpo

Ceiling: Lamar Odom/Blake Griffin/Scottie Pippen hybrid

Brandon Ingram – 6’9”, 196lbs, 18-years-old, Bug

Lakers Outlook: With the 2016 NBA Draft widely considered a “two-man draft,” the Lakers have the luxury here of not being able to mess up this pick. Now that the Black Mamba has slithered off into the sunset, the Lakers can truly start the rebuilding process that Kobe had tried unsuccessfully to fight. The young nucleus of Russell, Clarkson, Randle and Nance Jr. is lacking a small forward, so Ingram slots in as a perfect fit in the starting lineup. Standing at 6’9” with a freakishly long 7’3” wingspan, he’s often compared to the slight-framed Kevin Durant and that length will provide new coach Luke Walton with plenty of options to exploit mismatches on smaller defenders, while his outside shooting will give the Lakers some much needed floor spacing. The addition of Ingram will firmly put the “Farewell Tour” in the rearview, and help usher in the new era of Lakers basketball.

Jamal Murray – 6’5”, 201lbs, 19-years-old, Maahs

After a workout with Boston, in which Murray made 79 out of 100 three-point attempts, Murray was quoted saying, “I believe I’m the best player in the draft, but every team needs what they need.” While he may not be the best player in the draft, every team needs shooting. No team in the top half of the lottery has a more desperate shooting need than the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ranking 31st in 3PT made last season, Murray could provide instant help in that area while playing both guard positions. Seen as an average athlete and a weak defender, a couple of years under Thibs would be valuable for Murray’s development on the defensive end. The ability to play both guard positions, along with his age, has placed Murray ahead of Buddy Hield in the eyes of some scouts. With Eric Gordon hitting free agency and Jrue Holiday inevitability injured for a good chunk of the 2016-17 season, New Orleans has an immediate need for a guard capable of playing both positions. Playing alongside a rim-protector in Anthony Davis would help hide some of Murray’s defensive deficiencies while he adjusts to the NBA game. His hot shooting Boston workout could entice Danny Ainge to take Murray with the #3 pick. Brad Stevens’ position-less style of play would fit perfectly with Murray’s game and he could easily be paired up with a defensive minded guard (Bradley/Smart) while on the floor.

Floor: OJ Mayo

Ceiling: a range of Allan Houston to Brandon Roy (depending how the playmaking skills develop)

Kris Dunn – 6’4”, 205lbs, 22-years-old, Bug

After the top two guys come off the board, the next handful of picks is where things will get interesting. Kris Dunn is the unquestioned number one point guard, and possibly the best two-way player in this year’s draft. Dunn has great size for a PG at 6’4” and the elite athleticism to be an absolute menace on the defensive end. That same size also allows him to be able to guard some 2-guards as well. He is a nightmare to handle in transition offensively, and has developed a dependable jump shot that should only get better as his game matures. Because of his two-way ability, Dunn has a high floor and is probably one of the safest picks in this year’s draft. With the NBA transitioning to a perimeter-oriented league, point guard is a premium position in today’s game. The only problem for Dunn is that the teams drafting in the 3-7 range are pretty much set at the position. This has led to wide speculation that a trade will probably go down to acquire the Providence product. Recent buzz has the Sixers trying to work out a deal with the Celtics to acquire Dunn at #3. The Bulls have also been rumored to be very high on him, but moving up from #14 seems highly unlikely (Ed’s note: Derrick Rose was traded just after this was written). If there’s no trade action, the best fit in terms of need for Kris would be in New Orleans. Jrue Holiday has been a disaster with the Pels (mostly because of constant injuries), and Alvin Gentry’s team needs a young perimeter building block to pair with Anthony Davis.

Floor: Devin Harris

Ceiling: John Wall hybrid

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Buddy Hield – 6’4”, 214lbs, 22-years-old, Hamilton

The most explosive scorer/shooter in the draft, Buddy lights teams up. It only takes a quick half step to get into his shooting rhythm from deep. A hesitation (modeled after Kyrie) would make him even more lethal on the attack. Skilled and strong enough to contribute right away, a team with playoff aspirations won’t have to wait for contribution from the 22-year-old. Scouts have been killing his defense and it needs to get better. But the foundation is there: decent size at SG, hard worker, smart player, raises his game when it matters. There’s no good reason to think he won’t become an acceptable NBA defender. The best fit in this range is New Orleans. Eric Gordon has one more year on his deal, and can’t reasonably be brought back. Physically and mentally mature, Buddy will be ready for big minutes when the Hobbit goes down and ultimately leaves New Orleans. With another high character young guy in Anthony Davis it’s an ideal situation both ways. (Now bring Monty back!) Outside shooting and spacing are so integral to today’s NBA one might expect Buddy to go on the higher side of 4-8, but as we get closer to the draft he’s trending the other way. Feels like a lot of teams might regret passing on him.

Floor: JJ Redick

Aspiration: Some kind of Ray Allen/Dwyane Wade hybrid

Hottest Take: a top-seven all-time SG.

Henry Ellenson – 6’10”, 231lbs, 19-years-old, Bug

It doesn’t take long after turning on the Henry Ellenson tape to realize that this is a highly skilled big man with a lot of offensive tools in his toolbox. The thing that pops the most is the fluid ball handling for a player of his size. Ellenson goes 6’10”, 240, but he has no problem grabbing a defensive rebound and taking the ball coast-to-coast through traffic and finishing with either hand. His post-game is solid, highlighted by a soft touch and ability to score over either shoulder. The former Marquette star is also one of the draft’s best rebounders to bolster his offensive skill. The biggest knock on Ellenson is his lack of explosiveness. This could cause some problems for him defensively, but his overall talent will make the defensive liability more tolerable. Ellenson is projected to go somewhere between 9-15 in the draft, but based on recent workout reports of him shooting the ball well for Milwaukee, it is becoming more apparent that he could be a top-10 pick with the Bucks. Milwaukee is actively trying to move Greg Monroe, and Ellenson could come in and provide them a much needed boost shooting and scoring.

Floor: Josh McRoberts

Ceiling: Ryan Anderson with handles

Furkan Korkmaz – 6’7”, 185lbs, 19-years-old (on July 24th), Bug

This Turkish import has a nice offensive skillset with a deadly outside jumper and better than average athleticism. Korkmaz has an impressive highlight reel with a good mix of outside jumpers, drives to the hoop, and has the ability to finish above the rim. Still only 18-years-old, Korkmaz is a big unknown against top level competition after spending much of his time this past season riding the pine in the Euroleague (11.5 mpg). He flashed enough in the FIBA Europe junior league to have NBA scouts intrigued with his upside. Due to him probably being 1-2 years away from contributing, his ideal fit would be a team that has multiple first round picks and can bring him along slowly. Denver, Phoenix and Boston all have multiple picks in the first round that could see him go anywhere from the 13-23 range. Denver stands out as a particularly good fit out of those three teams. They have a strong international presence on the team and his outside shooting touch would be a good compliment in a backcourt rotation with Mudiay.

NBA Comparison: Nick Young

Denzel Valentine – 6’6”, 223lbs, 22-years-old, Hamilton

The word on Denzel Valentine is a significant right knee issue has his draft stock slipping out of the lottery and into the low 20s. One team went as far as comparing it to Danny Granger’s situation. Having one’s knee compared to Granger’s is almost as bad as it gets for a draftee. If only Portland were picking here, it’d be a no-brainer for them. Most noteworthy of the myriad skills he possesses, is his passing ability. Taking it a step further, his passing ability on the move – both in transition and in pick and roll situations – is NBA level stuff. He makes the right decisions and delivers the ball with precision to cutters, open shooters and alley-oop dunkers. He rebounded well at MSU but that will be tough to replicate in at this level. Boston, Denver and Detroit all pick in this range and all employ good quality NBA head coaches. To borrow a line from Omar Little “Even if I miss I can’t miss.” Though true, it’s the Pistons at #18 where Valentine makes the most sense. He shoots it well enough to space the floor for Andre Drummond and has the passing skills to get him the ball at the rim. Despite being a local guy, the pressure wouldn’t be too much here because he’d start out behind KCP, Stanley Johnson, Morris Twin and Tobias Harris. A chance to further develop his basketball brain under Stan Van Gundy would be a positive way to start a career. As several former SVG players have remarked SVG demands a lot from his players, and they get better and better under his watch.

Floor: Out the league in 4 yrs with a bum knee

Ceiling: an SG/SF Draymond Green

Bold Prediction: Makes at least 2 All-Star teams

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Timothe Luwawu – 6’7”, 205lbs, 21-years-old, Hamilton

The young Frenchman has solid NBA size and a skillset ideal as a rotation player in today’s NBA. His increased 3-point shooting (36% on 5.3 attempts per) from 14-15 to 15-16 is definitely worth noting. He gets good elevation on his 3-point-shot and isn’t shy about letting it fly from deep. With a lot of bounce on the drive and good length he passes the eye test as well. Effort on the defensive end needs to be better but that’s a common critique of young wing players. Hoopshype says Luwawu “is probably more dependent on landing on the right situation …” That’s part of what we’re looking for in this draft and for Luwawu that team is Charlotte picking at #22. Luwawu could do worse than joining a strong competitive leader in Kemba Walker and the chance to play behind his fellow countryman Nicolas Batum (assuming the Hornets re-sign him). Batum’s been around the block a few times and should help Luwawu adjust to life in the NBA and life in these United States. Charlotte can always use affordable NBA potential and Luwawu possesses it although he won’t be ready to play right away. While the Hornets aren’t the most stable environment in the league, it’s far from dysfunctional any longer and most of a competitive nucleus remains under contract for 16-17.

Reasonable comparison: Danny Green

More likely? Back to Europe Rudy Fernandez style.

Malachi Richardson – 6’6”, 200lbs, 20-years-old, Maahs

Those playing the draft night drinking game should get a full beer ready when Malachi’s name is called. Wingspan. Wingspan. Wingspan. At 6’6” with a 7-foot wingspan and a 38-inch vertical, Richardson has the size and length that makes NBA front offices salivate. These measurables combined with a smooth shooting stroke and a quick release, makes it’s easy to see why the 20-year old wing prospect has risen on many draft boards and is one of the 19 green room invitees on draft night. Like many young players, Richardson likes to hold the ball and square up his defender prior to make his first move. He has a nice bounce with the ball is in his hands and is capable of shooting off the dribble at any point during his initial move towards the rim. Consistent shooting was an issue during his freshman season at Syracuse — shooting 35% from 3PT and an abysmal 24% on two-point jumpers. Despite these shooting inconsistencies, Richardson is capable scorer and can rack up points in bunches as was evident during the Elite Eight win against Virginia — scoring 21 points in the second half with many of those coming against Malcolm Brogdon, the ACC’s defensive player of the Year. Playing only zone in college, it’s challenging for GM’s to get a true read on Richardson’s defensive capabilities. Like most rookies, there would be a defensive learning curve but his could be a little steeper. But with his length and a concentration on improved shot consistency it’s reasonable to think Richardson could easily be a 3-D guy at the next level. Once considered a late first/early second round pick, Richardson could be picked anywhere from 9-20 in the draft. Landing on a team like the Pacers with a primary playmaker (Paul George) could help his development — allowing him to focus on 3-D skills before taking on more offensive responsibilities.

Floor: Terrence Ross

Ceiling: Eddie Jones / Jimmy Butler hybrid

Wade Baldwin – 6’3”, 195lbs, 20-years-old, Hamilton

Wade Baldwin boasts good size for a PG at 6’4 and nearly 200 pounds. He has broad shoulders and likes to play to contact. He uses those physical tools along with a 6’11” wingspan to be an effective defender. His 38” vertical is yet another impressive metric. Unfortunately, his limitations are equally significant. He lacks much ability to attack small gaps to get into the paint in half court situations – all his highlights on the dribble are transition plays. His jump shot is from out in front of his face and appears to have a low release point. He makes it at a good clip (40% on 199 3s attempted in 2 years), but it looks easier to contest than that of other big guards. With a loose handle, it’s kind of difficult to see Baldwin ever being really good in pick and roll situations. Mocks show the Bulls like Baldwin at 14 and on some levels this pick makes sense. They may believe Baldwin is their post-Rose PG. They have no other PGs under contract for 16-17. Yet, given the totality of Baldwin’s strengths and weaknesses Fred Hoiberg is not the ideal coach. Defense is barely an afterthought for typical Hoiberg-led AAU squads. Player development appears to be equally important. If the Bulls have a repeat of 15-16, a coaching change should be in the cards. Next level PGs tend to have overachieving college teams. In a down SEC, the 2015-16 Vanderbilt team went 19-12 and lost the play-in game to Wichita State. I watched that game and didn’t even notice the Commodore PG (9 pts on 3-9, 5 ast, 4 TOs). I may be getting the wrong read on this player, but I just don’t see him having a major impact in the NBA.

Comparison: Poor Man’s Bradley Beal

Marquese Chriss – 6’9”, 225lbs, 19-years-old (on July 2nd), Fendo

I’ll be completely honest: I have no idea what Marquese Chriss’s NBA career looks like. He spent his freshman year at the University of Washington as a long-neck/torso having pogo stick of a power forward/center who would alternately shock and awe you with his quick-jumping dunks, then drive you batty picking up unnecessary dumbass fouls. The world exists between laughter and tears though and Chriss is more than his peaks or valleys. But for the teams sitting in the roughly three through ten range where he’s projected, patience is a virtue I hope they have. Lorenzo Romar’s Huskies switched everything on defense last year with the result being point guards on centers and Chriss on point guards. He moves his feet well enough and is gifted with copious athletic gifts, but attempted to adjust to the NCAA’s updated quick whistle officiating, Chriss fouled out 15 times in 34 games and had another 10 games where he picked up at least four fouls. A lot of this can be attributed to biting on shot fakes or just terrible decisions on loose balls or rebounds. Subtly though, there his defensive decision making improved. He continued to pick up fouls throughout the season, but he as he adjusted to the tight whistles, he spent more and more time on the court – going from 21-22 minutes/game in November/December to 27-29 minutes in February/March. I call this out as evidence of an ability to adapt. For a guy who didn’t start playing hoops until later than most of his peers, the immediacy of any pro success is going to correlate directly to how quick he can adapt to NBA-level speed, skill, and physicality. Along with the fouls, the other low-key red flag at UW was a nonchalant dismissiveness. Chriss’s body language frequently communicated a sense of a player annoyed or frustrated at being challenged. If this characteristic is anything more than a blip, he’ll struggle in the NBA where he’ll be challenged every night of the year. But with a quick release on a quality jumper (35% on nearly two three attempts/game) and world class athleticism, he’ll get his chance – ideally with a team like the Nuggets or Boston where he’s in a low-pressure environment with quality coaching. From there, maybe he becomes Tyrus Thomas or Derrick Williams or some hyper-athletic peak Terrance Jones.

2015 Dancing with Noah … Unprofessional Mock Draft

This draft, more so than most drafts in recent memory (I can only recall last year’s draft with any ease, and also the 1984 draft which is more something I know about and the 2003 draft), has great thorough talent lying the top eight players. It’s a remarkably deep group percolating with all kinds of global basketball goodness. We’ve got hyphens (Karl-Anthony, Cauley-Stein, Hollis-Jefferson), Euros (Kristaps, Hezonja), mano a mano positional intrigue (Towns vs. Okafor, Mudiay vs. Russell, Hezonja vs. Justise), and a pair of storied franchises (Lakers and Knicks) that could throw the whole thing out a whack with their maverick decision making ways. There’s Morey and Hinkie, the fence swinger and extra long looking visionary.

What’s best as a fan though is that there’s excitement. Everything I listed above is tossed into a big ass draft mixing bowl and stirred up into prognosticatory basketball goodness. And Adam Silver and ESPN’s talking heads will serve it up to all of us over the course of three to four hours (or however long the draft is these days) on a random Thursday night in high summer.

Below is the second annual Dancing with Noah mock. It’s weird and unsophisticated, but sprinkled with tasty little surprises throughout. This wasn’t a one-man show. My friends Rex Tredway, Hamilton, Bug, and Maahs joined for the bulk of it. And a couple Twitter personalities repped their teams below so special thanks to Justin Faudree and Jacob Greenberg.

Now let’s draft ……..

1. Minnesota Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns as drafted by Rex Tredway

It’s not a done deal yet, but Karl-Anthony Towns seems to be ahead by a nose in the two horse race to become the first to cross the stage on June 25th. The T-wolves have the luxury of deciding which big man to build the franchise around, but with this decision comes pressure. Flip Saunders has been touting Jahlil Okafor since well before his team secured a victory in the lottery, but the T-wolves’ front office seems set on Towns. Is Towns the best fit? Is he the best compliment to Nikola Pekovic in the frontcourt? Or is he just the safest pick? When you hold the first pick you dream of Lebron, Duncan, and Ewing, but what keeps you up at night is Joe Smith, Kwame Brown, and Greg Oden. Get some rest, Flip.

Tony Towns

2. Los Angeles Lakers, Jahlil Okafor as drafted by Bug

It’s been 10 years since the Lakers struck gold with a quality big man in the draft when they selected the eclectic Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick in 2005. It didn’t last long, but they have two titles to show for it. With Jahlil Okafor the Lakers get back to their roots with a dominant low post force. Some like to critique his defensive presence and motor, but are the Lakers really going to roll with the Ed Davis/Robert Sacre/Jordan Hill poop sandwich for another season? Even Jim Buss can’t fuck this pick up.

jahlil okafor

3. Philadelphia 76ers, Emmanuel Mudiay as drafted by Hamilton

In the last two drafts the Sixers have acquired players who ended their collegiate seasons in travel gear. This time why not go with a guy who didn’t play college ball? Emmanuel Mudiay spent the year in China with the Guangdong Southern Tigers where he put up roughly 18, 6, 6. All I know about Chinese basketball is this happened, but I’m guessing Mudiay’s numbers were a bit inflated by the comp. In any case, he did travel a nation playing basketball for money and – what’s that? D’Angelo Russell did too? Oh … well, good on ya, D! But did you play with a 24 second shot clock? No? Okay, that seals the deal for Philly. Mudiay is the guy.

Emmanuel Mudiay

4. New York Knicks, D’Angelo Russell as drafted by Fendo

While the ghost of Isiah Thomas haunts the hallways of MSG, Phil Jackson’s chilling in Montana no doubt smoking peyote and tweeting three-point philosophies and Jimmy Dolan’s subconsciously scheming new and diabolical ways to break the hearts of loyal Knick fans. But even ghosts, hallucinogens, and incompetents aren’t enough to convince the Knickerbockers to pick Trey Lyles. The decision comes from above and when it reaches the ears of Derek Fisher, he’s giddier than he was that time Billy Hunter was ousted: D’Angelo Russell is the choice and maybe the best player in the entire draft. Only thing is, Phil, Dolan, Melo, and Isiah were bickering over the pick on an MSG conference line when it was mysteriously delivered to Adam Silver. Jonathan Abrams is hatching the oral history as we mock.

d'angelo r

5. Orlando Magic, Kristaps Porzingis as drafted by Maahs

After an amazing showing in Las Vegas against Antoine Tyler, Kristaps Porzingis rose towards the top of every team’s draft board. All joking aside there’s a lot to like about the 19-year-old Latvian prospect and his draft workout. “The Zinger” has the rare combination of mobility, shooting touch, and size (7’1″ with a 7’6″ wingspan to be exact) that has tantalized scouts for years. With a ceiling of a Dirk/Kirilenko/Schrempf and a floor of Tskitishvili/Vesely, Porzingis’ fate will be determined by his growth under Scott Skiles. Yikes. Hopefully Skiles and Co. have a plan in place to develop young Porzingis on and off the floor – different than Skiles’ usual plan of having his team hate the coach after three years.

kristaps

6. Sacramento Kings, Willie Cauley-Stein as drafted by Maahs

He’s the next Tyson Chandler, we know, we know. Every mocker has endlessly compared Willie Trill Cauley-Stein to Tyson Chandler, but WTCS’ ability to defend on the perimeter is what will eventually set him apart from Chandler. And while it took seven years for Tyson Chandler to become Tyson Chandler, WTCS will be able to make an immediate impact on the defensive end. Like most Kentucky guys in the draft (not named Harrison), he has some offensive skills that weren’t on display during last season’s undefeated run. Getting a Kentucky running mate and finally some front court help should provide for a less cantankerous version of Boogie in the 2015-16 season (assuming he’s still on the team and that’s even a possibility under Coach Karl).

cauley stein

7. Denver Nuggets, Mario Hezonja as drafted by Fendo with input from Justin Faudree

I crept into the bowels of my Twitter contacts to speak with noted Europhile and Denver Nuggets guru, Justin Faudree. We weren’t able to go as deep into the conversation as I had hoped, but what became clear was Mario Hezonja’s uniqueness and the intertwining of his place in this draft relative to Justise Winslow. The Nuggets are filled with fresh new faces all eager to make a splash. Playing it safe (Winslow) isn’t winning the hearts and minds of the Nuggets faithful, but going in on a Croatian shooter/athlete with major Chase Budinger potential is the kind of balls to the wall move the people of Denver demand. Who needs defense when you’ve got the Rooster, Mario, and stay high Ty Lawson?

hezonja

8. Detroit Pistons, Justise Winslow as drafted by Hamilton

You don’t hear Winslow’s name mentioned with Detroit at #8 too often because he’s not expected to be sitting there when Stan Van makes his choice. There’s not a team in the NBA that wouldn’t benefit from his defensive willingness and attack-the-basket mentality. As good as he was for Duke last year, he’s damn young and may just be scratching the surface of what he can become. The Harden comparisons are too easy (left handed, uses a Euro step on the drive, gets to the line) and totally neglect the possibility of him being an elite wing defender. The knocks on him are shooting ability and focus. Both those things can improve with time in the NBA and SVG won’t accept anything less.

justise winslow

9. Charlotte Hornets, Trey Lyles as drafted by Bug

Jordan’s Hornets are on the clock, and there isn’t enough space allowable to mention all of the holes on this roster of ragamuffins. MJ was hoping for Cauley-Stein to fall to them to be their defensive anchor after Big Al skips town in a year (or sooner), but he is long gone. As Golden State showed with their championship run, versatility can be a major advantage. With that thought fresh in the minds of all NBA executives, the Hornets go with one of the most versatile players in the draft, Trey Lyles. Lyles came to Kentucky penciled in to play backup PF/C behind lottery picks Towns and Cauley-Stein, but injury forced him into action as a SF playing out of position. Lyles took the position change in stride, and steadily improved as the season progressed. At 6-10, 240, Lyles has the ability to play SF with a big lineup, or slide over center with a small ball lineup. Lyles isn’t great at any one skill, but he can do a bit of everything very well.

t lyles

10. Miami Heat, Stanley Johnson as drafted by Rex

There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to drafting. You either select the “best” player: the guy at the top of your draft board. Or, you draft to fill a need: the guy who fits the best. If you’re the guy who can check both those boxes with one pick, well, you might be Pat Riley. With the selection of Stanley Johnson you get a wing with tremendous upside. An elite athlete who already plays solid D, which seems to be much harder to teach in today’s NBA then developing a 3-point shot (37% at Arizona) and also hits the boards (6.5 RPG). Aside from the upside of Johnson on the court they also draft their way into leverage over both Wade and Deng’s player options.

stan johnson

11. Indiana Pacers, Cameron Payne as drafted by Rex

Roy Hibbert is headed out the door and David West turns 35 this year so the Pacers have to take a big man right? A seven-footer from Texas? The pick has to be Myles Turner right? Not in this mock my friends. The Pacers have plenty of holes to fill on a roster that was completely exposed in a season largely without Paul George. A playmaking PG who averaged 20 and 6 could be just what the Pacers are looking for this upcoming season. I mean, they’ve talked about a more up-tempo style next year and is Rodney Stucky (if he re-signs) really the guy who you want running the show?

campayne

12. Utah Jazz, Myles Turner as drafted by Bug

Once the Jazz decided to ship Enes Kanter out of town, they drastically improved into one of the best defenses in the league down the stretch. Utah’s glaring need is an upgrade in the shooting department (Burks, Burke and Dante Exum shoot at an insanely terrible clip), but the departure of Kanter last season leaves them a bit thin on the front line. With this pick, the Jazz select Myles Turner out of Texas. The 6-11 Turner provides reinforcements for both needs. Don’t let Turner’s size and position fool you, he sported an 84% stroke from the charity stripe and is capable of knocking down the deep ball. The big payoff for Utah will be Turner’s defensive presence. Averaging 2.6 bpg in only 22mpg at Texas, the young big man will fit right in with the defensive tone established by Gobert and Favors late in the 2014-2015 season.

myles turner

13. Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker as drafted by Hamilton

Devin Booker has a clear NBA level skill in his shot. Despite being picked after 3 of his UK teammates in this draft, there were several games during the 14-15 season in which he was their best player. Dude came up with timely 3s when his offensively-challenged team needed them. I clearly remember when his pops played for Mizzou and it makes me feel old as hell. But I digress. Like most NBA teams nowadays, the Suns want to spread the floor. This pick gets at that desire. Shooting ability isn’t just about making them – the threat is often enough to make an impact on games. Booker’s called light in the frame and below average athletically, but this is a make or miss league with a premium on the 3 pointer. When a guy can make ‘em like he does there’s a place for that late in the lottery.

devin booker

14. Oklahoma City Thunder, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as drafted by Fendo

At this point the draft has drifted into some sort of quality-driven fourth tier of player and with a new coach in place, an elite team that was damned by injuries in 2015, and Sam Presti’s model that may or may not have plateaued, OKC’s in a queer spot. Who’s calling the shots and does it even matter? What do you give the team that already has everything? We guess depth and a future and by we I mean me, Billy D, and Presti. In our dreamy imaginary war room with me dialing in from Seattle and representing the spirit that allowed this franchise to come into existence, our selection is narrowed down to three: Cam Payne, Kelly Oubre, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. We agree Oubre’s ceiling is the highest, Payne is the best player today, and Hollis-Jefferson the most complementary player to the Thunder’s present day roster. Offense just isn’t a problem with this collection of talent and Presti’s keen on Donovan replicating the Kerr/Blatt first year successes. Fellow Seattleites shun me for canoodling with the OKC brass, but mock draft duty calls and I reject their jeers and criticisms. Give us the hyphen, the defense, the Hollis-Jefferson. [After the fact, it becomes clear to me that Cam Payne was already off the board for this pick. Thus I wasted imaginary conversation time stressing about whether he’d be a good fit or if he’d just end up putting OKC in a tight situation like Harden and Reggie Jackson. Presti should’ve told me.]

rondae hollis

15. Atlanta Hawks, Bobby Portis as drafted by Maahs

After all the warm and fuzzy feelings of the regular season were gone, the injury bug and lack of depth ultimately doomed the Atlanta Hawks during the post season. With Paul Millsap and Demarre Carroll hitting free agency the Hawks are in desperate need of wing and post help. Portis, a lean 6’11”, provides immediate depth and his ability to hit the mid-range jumper will fit nicely into Coach Bud’s pace and space philosophy. With an offensive game similar to Chris Bosh, Portis will eventually be able extend is range to the 3 point line.

bobby portis

16. Boston Celtics, Kelly Oubre as drafted by Maahs

At 6’7” Oubre has the length, fluidity, athleticism, and look of your prototypical NBA small forward. A streaky shooter, Obure had a tendency to get lost on offense in his lone year at KU. And while he doesn’t yet excel at one specific thing, he projects to be at least a solid player in the league. Being a solid NBA player isn’t a bad thing, the Celtics current roster is full of them. Danny Ainge adds another high ceiling glue guy in the hopes of landing a max player or using them as future trade assets.

kelly oubre

17. Milwaukee Bucks, Frank Kaminsky as drafted by Fendo

Frank the Tank or whatever they’re calling this mass of American-born Diaw-styled basketball goodness is the perfect fit in the rapidly developing cerebral nerve center of these Milwaukee Bucks. Coach Jason Kidd and GM John Hammond are high fiving in the Bucks war room as visions of Kaminsky occupying high posts and running weird pick & rolls with Giannis and Jabari and Khris dance in their heads. The League Pass darlings of 2015 look poised to carry the momentum forward in ways the Suns only wish they could’ve done the year before.

kaminsky

18. Houston Rockets, Jerian Grant as drafted by Hamilton

Houston rolled into the WCF with Jason Terry’s corpse starting at PG. There are few nights off in the NBA and even fewer at PG in the West. Whether the Rockets bring Jet back (they shouldn’t bother) they need younger legs behind Pat Beverley (assuming they retain his services). Jerian Grant’s the answer at #18. He’s got good size (6’4, 200), can shoot it, and played in an up-tempo offense at Notre Dame. That size coupled with defensive quickness gives him a shot to contribute in his first year. That’s what a team like Houston needs. As the son of former NBAer Harvey Grant and brother of Sixer SF Jerami, he knows what life in the league is all about. That matters too.

jerian grant

19. Washington Wizards, Montrezl Harrell as drafted by Bug

The Wiz have their backcourt locked down for the foreseeable future, but their frontline is a little long in the tooth. Nene, Gortat, and Humpries are all in their 30s now, and Nene will soon be a free agent. Washington came roaring out of the gates early in the season, but they hit a wall and one has to think that old legs was a factor. Although a bit undersized, Harrell is one of the strongest and most athletic players in this draft. He should provide some toughness on the frontline and bring a ton of energy to a team that seemed to fade down the stretch last season. Montrezl has an improving jumper and will need to continue improving in that area to make a name for himself, but there is always a spot in the league for an athletic big man that plays his ass off every night.

montrezl

20. Toronto Raptors, Sam Dekker as drafted by Bug

Masai Ujiri and crew were pleasantly surprised to have Sam Dekker fall in their laps at #20. Coming off of an electric tournament run, Dekker had scouts buzzing and being a lottery pick seemed to be a lock. The Raptors are in need of more production from both forward spots and Dekker is the top player left on their board. He gives the Raps some versatility with the ability to play both forward spots and even provide some mismatches at the four like he did at Wisconsin. Enough about Sam though…is anyone else rooting for his girlfriend to be in the green room with him?

dekker

21. Dallas Mavs, RJ Hunter as drafted by Hamilton

The Mavs (or Macs as the autocorrect on my phone prefers to call them) need a starting PG. They won’t find one here, but will be in the mix for every free agent like they are each summer. What they can find here is some shooting on the wing. Despite an odd release on his shot, at 6’5” RJ Hunter should be able to get clean looks and spread the floor when placed with the right (star) players – players Mark Cuban is certain to throw big money at in a post-Dirk world. Dallas will find itself in transition soon and having a specialist like Hunter under rookie contract during a retool makes sense from where I sit.

RJ Hunter

22. Chicago Bulls, Christian Wood as drafted by Bug

The Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg as their new coach to help open up the offense a bit and to unleash the Bulls deep talent. Unless a trade goes down, the Bulls don’t have many spots open in the rotation. There isn’t anyone left at this point in the draft that will contribute right away, so the Bulls decide to go with a developmental pick and take Christian Wood out of UNLV. Wood is high-energy forward that can run the floor like a gazelle. He also puts his length to good use on the defensive end where he averaged 2.6 blocks per game in his sophomore season for the Rebels. Wood has good mechanics on his jumper (73% FT) which has many GMs believing he can develop into a solid stretch four in the pros. The Bulls have the luxury of letting Wood develop his rail thin 6-10, 215 frame while he learns from watching Pau and Noah for his first couple years. He enrolled at UNLV at only 17-years of age, so Christian is one of the younger players in the draft at 19. Wood himself likens his game and skill set to Giannis Antekounmpo, and the Bulls are happy to allow him the opportunity to meet that potential.

christian wood

23. Portland Trailblazers, Justin Anderson as drafted by Hamilton

Portland has the worst luck when it comes to injuries. Or maybe they’re cursed. Who can tell for sure? You’re well aware of the injuries so it’d be a waste of my precious time to list them. If you’ve noticed a theme in my picks, it’s because there is one for the most part – wing players who can shoot. A basketball team can never have too many guys who can shoot from the outside. That’s never been truer than it is in today’s NBA. Portland has gotten squat from its bench in the last couple years which makes their injury situation impossible to mitigate. In Justin Anderson Portland gets everything it wants: a young athletic shooter capable on both ends who also missed games due to injury. A perfect fit indeed.

justin anderson

24. Cleveland Cavaliers, Rashad Vaughn as drafted by Fendo

Everything floating in LeBron’s powerful orbit screams NOW NOW NOW. But David Griffin (with the approval of D. Gilbert) has to at least acknowledge that a future exists, that tomorrow is right around the corner and what was NOW has become then. With that layman’s barstool philosophy driving him forward, he recognizes the need for someone who can be cultivated, developed, groomed into a legit pro. “Aim high, Griffin” is what he says as a stares intently into his own eyes in the mirror, sure to remind himself that, “You brought LeBron James back and now you’re drafting the next Bradley Beal. You’re the toast of Cleveland, Mr. Griffin.” Is it still a lie if it’s the truth in your reality?

rashad vaughn

25. Memphis Grizzlies, Tyus Jones as drafted by Maahs

With some of the top wing players already gone, the Grizzlies select the best player on their board in Tyus Jones. Injuries to Mike Conley are mounting each year, and the Grizz could use depth at PG beyond the 1-2 punch that is Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih. What Jones lacks in size or athleticism he makes up with poise, leadership and clutch shooting. Joining a franchise that values “playing the right way” over wingspans (drink) and athleticism, Jones will do just fine.

tyus jones

26. San Antonio Spurs, Kevon Looney as drafted by Maahs

With no viable Euro options on the board, the Spurs are forced to select a stateside player in the first round for the second consecutive year. A classic stretch four, with the ability to play some SF, Looney works hard on the glass and is a good decision maker on offense. Smart player, hard worker, good shooter…GO SPURS.

kevon looney

27. Los Angeles Lakers, Terry Rozier as drafted by Fendo

The Lakers have long treated the draft the way frivolous people treat lightly used, but still valuable goods — easily discardable. Meanwhile, thrifty NBA teams are using the draft the way savvy shoppers use garage sales and coupons. But these Lakers have been embarrassed into figuring out the new world of fiscal politics. But it’s weird because Kobe’s the last holdover to the good old days when the sex appeal of LA and the purple and gold was enough to finangle Pau Gasols and Chris Pauls (never forget). With a nod to their frivoulous past as Jerry Buss speaks sweet whispers into the thick El Segundo air, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss are inexplicably compelled to hand over the keys to #27 to the Mamba who promptly picks the kid most frequently labeled “fearless” in this draft: Terry Rozier. Never one to shy away from self-congratulations, Kobe makes his pick, then proceeds to tweet out a string of hardcore hashtags #ThisisNOW #LetitFly #CompetitionisEverything #LittleMamba #DwightisSoft #MambaMambaMambaMambaMamba…

terry rozier

28. Boston Celtics, Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez as drafted by Hamilton

Boston went with wing player in KU swingman Kelly Oubre earlier in this round. For this pick they’re going big and Euro. Guillermo Hernangomez might never come over to the NBA. If he does, he’ll be big and strong and Spanish. With multiple picks in the next two drafts Boston doesn’t have much risk in this pick and may be able to move his rights as part of a trade in the future. That, my friends, is value right there.

guillermo

29. Brooklyn Nets, Delon Wright as drafted by Bug

Still reeling from the KG/Paul Pierce trade that backfired, the beleaguered Nets are stuck in the shadows of luxury tax hell. Deron and Joe Johnson appear to be a shell of their former selves and the team depth is gutted from the over-inflated salaries of their fading stars. Based on Paul Pierce’s interview back in April, the Nets need an influx of players that give a damn. The best guard on Billy King’s (yes, he still has a GM job somehow) board is Delon Wright out of Utah. Delon is the younger brother of NBA veteran, Dorrell Wright, so he has an idea of what it takes to make it in the league. He was the engine behind the Utes surprising Sweet 16 run this past season. He has great size for a PG at 6-5, and he uses his length to cause havoc on the defensive end (2.1 spg). If Delon can get some more consistency with his outside jumper, he could end up being one of the steals in this draft.

delon wright

30. Golden State Warriors, George de Paula as drafted by special guest Jacob Greenberg

Unsurprisingly, the Warriors aren’t super attached to the 30th pick — what with winning the NBA championship and all — and most reports suggest that they’d happily give this pick away in a David Lee-centric trade in order to obtain some salary cap relief. But the Warriors have had some luck at #30 in recent years (Festus Ezeli went 30th in 2012), and other championship teams have found value at the end of the first round. If they do keep the pick, they may go with George de Paula, a 6’6” point guard out of Brazil. The last combo guard the Dubs drafted didn’t work out — rest in power, Nemanja Nedovic — and the Warriors already are pretty loaded at the guard spot. That said, the Warriors aren’t exactly thirsting for depth at the moment; he could go to the Santa Cruz Warriors to develop, or he could be stashed overseas until needed. And if Barbosa sticks around another year, those two could become the focal point of a potentially entertaining (and marketable) Brazilian cohort. But again, I’ll be very surprised if the Warriors have this pick (and David Lee; godspeed you loaf of Wonder Bread) by the end of the day on Thursday.

george de paula

2014 Dancing with Noah Unauthorized, Uncensored, Unprofessional Mock Draft

The current state of the mock draft is as much masturbatory as it exists for the voyeuristic. Mock drafting is as fun for mocker as the audience as we’ve witnessed with the NFL and the spawn of well-coiffed humans like Mel Kiper, but it’s also a participatory sport as the emergence of Fantasy Sports has revealed. For the 2014 NBA Draft, the mock laid out below covers the top-30 picks in the draft assuming no trades are made. Staying true to the tradition that mocks are a great way to pass the time, I brought along some old friends you don’t know and a newer friend you may know. The format is easy to follow and you can skip around or read straight through, but don’t miss the numerous gems sprinkled across this oddly fun, but probably not functional, mock draft.

The draftees were myself, Ian Levy of Hickory-High, Robert Hamill of the NBA Father/Son Two v. Two tourney, Brian Foster also of Father/Son, Andrew Maahs, and Rex Tredway. We drafted in a snake fashion, 1 thru 6, then the draftee with the 6th pick had 7 and so on.

With all that administration out of the way, let’s get on with the drafting which took place over the past couple weeks over email:

1. Cleveland Cavaliers, Andrew Wiggins as drafted by Ian Levy

The night after the Draft Lottery, Dan Gilbert was visited by three ghosts. The first was the ghost of Cavalier Past. A shade with the build and hairline of Karl Malone, the ghost of Cavalier Past told a story of the rich trappings of success being suddenly ripped away. The second and third were the ghosts of Cavalier Present. One was an overweight and overmatched disappointment, the other an overconfident and unaware star of debatable brightness. They told the story of missed opportunities and of struggles private and public. After they left, Gilbert sat in his luxiourous four-poster bed, shivering with fear, awating the ghost of Cavalier Future. But as dawn broke, the final ghost never appeared. The light stretching between his bedroom blinds brought renewed confidence, wiping away the terrifying memories of the night before. Gilbert grabbed his phone and accidentally called Chris Grant, “You again? Sorry, I meant to call David,” then hung up and rang David Griffin: “Forget about those questions we talked about yesterday. Get me that Canadian kid who can jump real high.”

andrew wiggins - dwn

 

2. Milwaukee Bucks, Jabari Parker as drafted by Kris Fenrich

On the eve of the 2014 Mock Draft, no ghosts visited the new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, just a call from GM John Hammond who, after deep thought, reflection, and a consultation with his former employer and mentor … Joe Dumars … had arrived at his 1-2 scenario. Hammond didn’t hide his disappointment that the team’s #1 option was already off the board. “We needed Wiggins!” he shrieked out loud while pacing in the team’s war room. The rest of the assorted Bucks employees looked at each other in awkward embarrassment and someone suppressed a laugh. Hammond stopped cold, realized he was making an ass of himself and recounted the sobering conversation he’d had with Dumars the night before where Joe had reeled off all the truths of Joel Embiid’s franchise-lifting ceiling: athletic fluidity, rebounding and shot blocking, underrated, but rapidly developing offensive arsenal and all against the backdrop of that troubled Larry Sanders. With darkened memories of Darko Milicic dancing a fiendish jig in his mind, Hammond made the call: Jabari Parker.

jabari parker - dwn

3. Philadelphia 76ers, Joel Embiid as drafted by Andrew Maahs

Raw big man, check. High-upside, check. Injury red flag, check. Falling in the draft, check.

With Joel Embiid falling to the Sixers, GM Sam Hinkie asks, “HAVEN’T WE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE?” And despite conventional wisdom the Sixers select another high-upside big man with injury concerns in Joel Embiid. But unlike last year’s selection, Noel, Embiid is in act one, scene four of a basketball career that some are comparing to a young Akeem Olajuwon, yes that Hakeem Olajuwon. Critics will question whether the two big men can share the same stage, questions that won’t be answered in year one as Hinkie and Co. will cautiously rest both players periodically, embracing year two of “Operation Tank.” With the #10 pick and five second-round picks, the Sixers brass will have endless opportunities to surround the young nucleus, of Michael Carter Williams, Noel and Embiid, with the right pieces. One thing is clear, Embiid is the Godfather II to Noel’s Godfather, and this time the sequel is better, unbelievably better.

joel embiid - dwn

4. Orlando Magic, Marcus Smart as drafted by Brian Foster

With the Otis Smith roster purge nearly completed (Jameer Nelson is the lone holdover), young gun GM Rob Hennigan is finally ready for the Orlando Magic to start making progress towards the playoffs in a watered down Eastern Conference. With no surprises in the first 3 picks, the Magic find themselves picking from a handful of players they expected to be available. It’s no secret that Orlando needs a PG badly to make this young core of players flourish going forward. Hennigan’s mentor and good friend, Sam Presti, found himself in a similar situation 6 years ago in the 2008 draft. There was an emotional, fiery guard with disruptive defensive ability and great size who no one knew whether or not he would be a true point guard. Presti was heckled by some draft pundits for taking the leap with Russell Westbrook. I’d say Westbrook turned out ok, so Hennigan has no problems pulling the trigger here . “Irrational shot selection and sketchy shooting be damned, I’m going with my gut!!” shouts Hennigan from the Magic war room.

marcus smart - dwn

5. Utah Jazz, Dante Exum as drafted by Robert Hamill

A somewhat surprising pick by Orlando at #4 forced Utah to reevaluate its choice. Prevailing thought had Orlando taking Dante Exum, leaving GM Kevin O’Connor sure the player he wanted was top-rated PF, Juius Randle. Of the remaining players atop Utah’s board, Randle was the proven choice – that is to say he proven in a present-day NBA draft. Also under consideration, Noah Vonleh blew minds at the combine. But the word “raw” gets thrown around with him, and raw doesn’t always become filet mignon when it’s fully cooked. O’Connor also had concerns about his build. Narrow shoulders aren’t a great asset around the basket. And finally, Exum, the wildcard from down under. Wildcards are often destined for the same fate as raw players. To a gambler, a wildcard has a malleable future, capable of being shaped to fit your scenario. For O’Connor, the big question was, can he play some SG? At 6’6″ with long arms and top-10 times in all the combine speed drills, the answer appears to be yes. O’Connor may not fancy himself a gambler, but today he is. Exum’s skills should help Gordon Hayward create from the wing, and let Trey Burke play to his strength by getting open 3s. The Jazz select Dante Exum. Now, who’s going to coach this group?

dante exum - dwn

6. Boston Celtics, Julius Randle as drafted by Rex Tredway

The Sports Illustrated cover solidified the comparison.  A Midwestern farm-boy from a mid-major who can stroke the three, as soon as Dougy McBuckets grows a stache he and Larry are basically the same guy right?  I’m sure there’s a sizable portion of Celtic’s nation who thinks so.  So the pick is obvious.  With the sixth pick in the 2014 draft the Boston Celtics select:  Julius Randle.

Randle is the easy selection here for Ainge and Stevens.  He was a consensus top three pick before the season and has a body that’s NBA ready.  He showed us that he can dominate the boards during Kentucky’s tourney run, and that talent fills a need in Boston immediately.

julius randle - dwn

7. Los Angeles Lakers, Noah Vonleh as drafted by Rex Tredway

The D-League Lakers were an absolute mess this year.  At this point in the off-season there still seem to be more questions than answers.  Who’s going to be the Head Coach?  How much gas will Kobe have in the tank when he comes back?  Is Gasol out the door now or later?  Not even a call to Miss Cleo can get you all of those answers.  Question marks aside, I see the Lakers taking Noah Vonleh in this spot.  He’s not the combine freak that Aaron Gordon is, but he’ll be a better rebounder in year one and more importantly he has the ability to hit the mid-range jumper on a pick-and-pop.

noah vonleh - dwn

8. Sacramento Kings, Zach LaVine as drafted by Robert Hamill

If the Kings are indeed willing to trade for Kevin Love without any assurance he will sign an extension, they should take the most gifted player available and not give consideration to the current roster. A team that has tried stockpiling assets, the Kings are what we’ve come expect from an organization that has employed 6 coaches over the past 8 seasons. Aside from DeMarcus Cousins, all current Kings are expendable. At #8, the player that will either excite fans at Sleep Train Arena, or get the attention of the Love-selling T’Wolves, is UCLA freshman SG Zach LaVine. LaVine is compared favorably (and unfavorably) to Russ Westbrook. Fearless in transition; explosive athleticism; questionable judgment. But he’s different too. Legit SG size; effortless range from deep with a smooth, balanced release; not much of a creator for others. Like Westbrook he’s a late bloomer – a kid that wasn’t even in the top-50 of any recruiting service 2 years ago. He looks like a young guy who is still figuring out how to use all of his genetic gifts. The Kings now set their sights on Kevin Love and dream of an outcome that delivers Love while holding onto LaVine … because they know there’s a decent chance he becomes one of the top three players in this draft.

zach lavine - dwn

9. Charlotte Hornets, James Young as drafted by Brian Foster

Charlotte retired the Bobcats name respectably with a trip to the playoffs in their final season before becoming the Hornets once more. In a rare stroke of luck for the Michael Jordan Front Office Circus, the Hornets picked up the Pistons lottery pick that was only top-8 protected as the result of a Corey Maggette for Ben Gordon swap two years ago (you heard right, Joe Dumars somehow made the Ben Gordon signing even worse by giving away the 9th pick in this year’s draft just to dump his salary).  With that being said, let’s go into the mind of Michael Jordan for this pick to see how his previous personnel blunders influence the Hornets for the 2014 draft: Rich Cho: “Doug McDermott?” MJ: “Oh no, I’m not falling for the high scoring, sweet shooting white guy again. Fuck. That.” Cho: “Aaron Gordon?” MJ: “Hell no, he reminds me of that bitch ass Tyrus Thomas who just runs and jumps around with no real basketball skills.” Cho: “Gary Harris?” MJ: “Too little, I would post him up after shoot arounds all day. Ask Gerald. No, for real, get his ass on speaker phone.” Cho: “…” MJ: “Fine, don’t call him. Who’s that guy that kid from Kentucky that dunked on the African dude in the NCAA title game?” Cho: “I give up…Rod (Higgins), call the pick in already.”

james young - dwn

10. Philadelphia 76ers, Gary Harris as drafted by Andrew Maahs

Measuring in at a meager 6’2.5″ without shoes, SG Gary Harris found himself singing “I wish I was taller,” after the NBA combine concluded on May 15th. Despite his disappointing measurements, the Sixers pulled out the “rabbit in a hat with a bat” and drafted the combo guard. Arguably one of the best on ball defenders in the draft, Harris provides the Sixers another defensive asset for their young roster. The length of Michael Carter Williams will help neutralize Harris’ lack of size on the defensive end, and his ability to play both guard spots gives the Sixers some versatility, depth and playmaking they desperately need.

gary harris - dwn

11. Denver Nuggets, Aaron Gordon as drafted by Kris Fenrich

Sometimes choice can be overwhelming and when you’re a mediocre team with needs across the board, having too many options can be like getting lost in the labyrinthine menu at Cheesecake Factory. Do I want the herb crusted filet of salmon (Aaron Gordon) or the grilled shrimp and bacon club (Dario Saric) or maybe the buffalo blasts (Nik Stauskas)? My God, man, why are we talking about Cheesecake Factory’s oversaturated fatty menu when my cholesterol is already too high and there’s plenty of leafy green options (Doug McDermott) out there just waiting to be devoured and deliver me the sustenance necessary to make strong, clear headed decisions? Screw the salad, we’re already here and what’s life if it’s not indulging in what you really want instead of what you need? Redundancy be damned, potential Shawn Marion clone (minus cockeyed jumper and insecurities) Aaron Gordon is the choice. Now if you don’t mind, I have platter of salmon and mashed potatoes drowning in a lake of lemon butter waiting for me.

aaron gordon - dwn

12. Orlando Magic, Nik Stauskas as drafted by Ian Levy

With this pick the Orlando Magic have turned their back court into Voltron. Stauskas, Smart, Oladipo, Afflalo, E’Twaun Moore (in a pinch) can assemble themselves into a super robot, with each limb capable of spacing the floor, running a pick-and-roll, and taking a tough defensive assignment. Now they just have to figure out who gets to hold the giant sword.

nik stauskas - dwn

13. Minnesota Timberwolves, Doug McDermott as drafted by Ian Levy

Timberwolves gonna Timberwolf.

doug mcdermott - dwn

14. Phoenix Suns, Dario Saric as drafted by Kris Fenrich

With three picks in the first round and a 48-win team that’s celebrating the departure of Emeka Okafor and his nearly $15-million deal, the Suns are the envy of the lottery. Maybe not, but as such, they’re in a good mood and pleased to take 6’10” Croatian point forward/future Toni Kukoc/slender Boris Diaw, whom they call Dario Saric. While preferring Saric to join ASAP, the Suns are willing to wait until 2015 if that’s what it takes. Also, there’s hope in the front office that his splotchy mustache thing will have either filled in or fallen out by then.

dario saric - dwn

15. Atlanta Hawks, Rodney Hood as drafted by Andrew Maahs

When DeMarre Carroll and D-League vet, Cartier Martin are the only true Small Forwards on your roster you could use more than little help at that position. Rodney Hood fills an immediate need and fits well into the 3-point happy Hawks offensive system. Atlanta will be heavily chasing restricted free agent Gordon Hayward this offseason and Hood should be a decent consolation prize should they fail to land Hayward.

rodney hood - dwn

16. Chicago Bulls, Kyle Anderson as drafted by Brian Foster

With the uncertainty of Derrick Rose‘s knees and the departure of Luol Deng, the Bulls weaknesses were on full display in the playoffs against a young Wizards team. They lacked depth on the wings, and didn’t have anyone who can create for others like Rose. The Bulls address both needs with one player: Point forward, Kyle Anderson, out of UCLA.

kyle anderson - dwn

17. Boston Celtics, Elfrid Payton as drafted by Robert Hamill

Only one piece of the contending Celtics teams remains. Danny Ainge has long desired to trade Rajon Rondo, and very well may have last year had the moody PG not been rehabbing a torn ACL. In the last year of his deal, and still considered a top PG, a market for Rondo certainly exists. Or perhaps they ride out the last year of Rondo and do a sign and trade in the summer of ’15. Regardless, the time to move on is approaching. Elfrid Payton brings some Rondo-like ability to the table – speed and quickness, vision, energetic defense (his 2.6 spg is tops amongst this draft class). Also like Rondo, his shot is disjointed and ineffective. At 6’4 he’s tall, young (played his freshman season at 17), eager to improve, and he’s the Celtics pick at #17.

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18. Phoenix Suns, TJ Warren as drafted by Rex Tredway and rationalized by Kris Fenrich

Sure, the Suns might crave shooting threes like the NCAA craves hypocrisy, but coach Jeff Hornacek’s no dummy and wants to expand his offensive portfolio with the theme of diversification. And no one in this draft diversifies a three-heavy offense like NC State small forward, TJ Warren. I have no clue how or where Warren learned to play basketball, but with an array of two-point moves that already qualifies as mature, one wonders if he spent his childhood studying the likes of Alex English, Adrian Dantley, Kiki Vandeweghe, Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Kelly Tripucka, Bernard King …. you get the picture, Warren’s a throwback to the days before the three ball was crowned king and sat on a throne 23’9″ from the hoop. But God help us if the young man ever develops that part of his game.

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19. Chicago Bulls, PJ Hairston as drafted by Rex Tredway and rationalized by Kris Fenrich

Chicago’s identity is crafted by two men: Sheriff Tom Thibodeau and Deputy Joakim Noah. With those two steel-willed men guiding the franchise, Thibs convinces the front office that the red flags (and wailing sirens and weed/gun/speeding infractions) that accompany wing-player PJ Hairston aren’t enough to deter the Bulls from snagging the big-bodied UNC reject. In Hairston, Thibs sees a bearded ball of unformed clay ready to be sculpted into a tooth and nail defender with a jumper good enough to catch feeds from Noah and a healthy Derrick Rose.

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20. Toronto Raptors, Tyler Ennis as drafted by Robert Hamill

20 years ago the Raptors probably would have avoided taking a Canadian kid. The expectations on a local product for the new franchise could have been heavy. But it’s 2014 and the Raptors are just another franchise trying for consecutive playoff berths. With Kyle Lowry‘s future at the club up in the air, the Raptors need to add a PG. Masai Ujiri didn’t expect Ennis to be here at #20, and when he was, the call was easy. Will Ennis be a starting caliber PG for a perennial playoff team? Who knows – it’s hard to ever know for sure. But he’s the obvious choice for Toronto. He comes from a winning culture and has shown the ability to play well in big moments.

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21. Oklahoma City Thunder, Adreian Payne as drafted by Brian Foster

Fresh off of their Western Conference Finals loss to the Spurs, GM Sam Presti realizes that it’s time to recruit some reinforcements on the front line. The injury to Serge Ibaka in the playoffs magnified the Thunder’s lack of front court depth. Steven Adams is a good, young prospect, but after that it gets ugly in a hurry. Nick Collison is near the end of the road of his NBA career, and I wouldn’t pick Kendrick Perkins to play on my team in a pickup game at the Y. Watching Kevin Durant get pushed around filling in at the 4 made this decision easy for Presti. Adreian Payne out of Michigan State is his man. Payne checks in at 6’10”, 240 with a Stretch Armstrong-like 7-4 wingspan. His ability to mix it up inside and stretch the floor with range out to 3 will definitely be a welcome addition to this young OKC core.

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22. Memphis Grizzlies, Cleanthony Early as drafted by Andrew Maahs

The small forward position of the Grizzlies is a collection of has beens and never have beens. With Tayshaun Prince washed up and Mike Miller a situational player, the Grizzlies are in desperate need of a playmaker at that position. After a strong performance at the combine and in the NCAA tournament, against Kentucky, the 23 year-old, Cleanthony Early is ready to make the leap from the mid-major level to the NBA. If he manages to beat owner Robert Pera in his weekly one-on-one games, Early may find himself in Dave Joerger’s starting lineup. That’s if Joerger still coaching this team by the end of the week.

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23. Utah Jazz, KJ Daniels as drafted by Kris Fenrich

While some in the organization believe the Jazz should’ve drafted another white hope in Doug McDermott at #5, good sense and a pro-Australian-faction won out. But by taking Exum at #5 and losing a handful of aging, calcifying players to free agency, the Jazz are getting younger while their current crop of kids (Hayward, Kanter, Favors) gain crucial on the job experience. A couple of Euro imports may be the best players available, but the Jazz need help now and that means taking the gaudy athleticism of Clemson’s, K.J. McDaniels. At 6’6”, Daniels uses his quick leaping ability to be a plus rebounder and shot blocker for his position. Jazz marketers are already planning campaigns with working titles as “McDaniels’ Den of Dazzling Dunks” or “KJ: More Athletic than RJ and less arthritic than Marvin.”

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24. Charlotte Hornets, Glenn Robinson III as drafted by Ian Levy

The New Orleans Hornets are in desperate need of some spacing from the small forward position and Robinson is just what the doctor ordered. Long and athletic, oh, the marvelous, glorious basketball DNA. Also, they can now give up on Austin Rivers and not keep their Nepotism Rating high. #AdvancedStats

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25. Houston Rockets, Mitch “Money” McGary as drafted by Ian Levy

The Rockets are still missing something. You can call it chutzpah, intensity, aggression, passion, physicality, giving a flying fuck, reckless abandon, the willingness to mix it up, cojones, muscles for miles. Whatever your chosen euphemism, McGary has it and the Rockets don’t. Now they can trade Asik, plug McGary in for 25 minutes a night as Dwight Howard‘s back slowly disintegrates and let the man go get frothy.

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26. Miami Heat, Shabazz Napier as drafted by Kris Fenrich

Let’s be real, Mario Chalmers is exhausted from years of being the Miami whipping boy. Between the Heat cap jockeying and the availability of Napier, it’s time for Mario to take his title talents elsewhere and for Shabazz to sidle into the Norris Cole role (sans high top) as Cole becomes a not-so-annoying Chalmers. At the end of the day, we’re all just filling someone else’s shoes.

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27. Phoenix Suns, Kristaps Porzingis as drafted by Andrew Maahs

After selecting Dario Saric, with the #14 pick, the Suns double dip and select another skilled 7-footer in Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis is a few years away from being an NBA caliber player, as was evident by his 6.7 PPG and 2.7 RBG in Spain’s ACB League. With three first round picks, the Suns are counting on one of their European selections to stay overseas, giving them roster felxibilty for free agents and/or Kevin Love.

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28. Los Angeles Clippers, Jerami Grant as drafted by Brian Foster

Since the beginning of the Chris Paul Era in Clipperland, they’ve had a revolving door of over the hill and journeymen small forwards (Ryan Gomes, Caron Butler, Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill). With the Sterling saga in the rear view mirror, the Clippers are looking to turn the page by drafting some young legs to inject some energy into this mostly veteran core. In comes Jerami Grant from Syracuse. Grant is a slasher with protypical SF size (6-8 215) that likes to use his exceptional athleticism to get to the rim and put pressure on the defense. You can check out the kid’s dunk highlights on YouTube to get an idea of how well Grant will fit in with his new team. Welcome to Lob City.

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29. Oklahoma City Thunder, Clint Capela as drafted by Robert Hamill

Unless you agree with Scott Brooks‘ comments following Game 6 of the WCF, OKC finds itself coming up short of expectations for the 2nd straight year (injuries or not). While the team needs to retool, and maybe hire a new coach, the pick at #29 doesn’t exactly lend itself to that effort. Sam Presti should regret giving Kendrick Perkins the deal he did, and it seems highly unlikely the scary big man will return once it expires in 2015. Clint Capela makes a great draft-and-stash pick and seems like a move Presti’s mentors in San Antonio would make. He’s only 20 and needs a lot of seasoning, but he’s big, strong and could be a nice piece alongside Serge Ibaka in a couple years.

clint capela

30. San Antonio Spurs, CJ Wilcox as drafted by Kris Fenrich

Coach Gregg Popovich might claim to hate the three, but he knows where his bread’s buttered and there aren’t many better shooters in this draft than 23-year-old CJ Wilcox from UW. At 23 and having played behind bigger, brighter names and talents, Wilcox is humble and hungry. He brings a quick release and above average athleticism to a team that can never go deep enough. At training camp, his targets will be set on the minutes of Marco Bellinelli and his creepy neck beard.

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Sunday to Monday Thoughts on Basketball #11

There’s no telling what the future holds except that we can guarantee further critiques of Roy Hibbert’s offensive game and uncertainty around this draft class, particularly those top-three youngsters who guarantee us nothing except our own over-analysis and speculation. The crystal balls and eight-balls and the eight crystal balls and draft similarity scores are all imperfect. Your gods, their gods are as unreliable as Rob Deer’s ability to get a base hit off Sandy Koufax. Probabilities improve when we’re down to four teams (one of which is imploding on itself like one of those downtown buildings surrounded by people and offices and dwellings, laced on the inside with explosives that ensure the building will cave in, and everyone else can just stand in their office with a mug of coffee, certain they’ll be entertained, but more importantly, safe) and we think we’re confident that we’ll get a Spurs-Heat rematch. But we don’t know … so we watch the games. Enough of my feeble meanderings. Let’s talk about the week that was:

  • In keeping with the gleefully-received trend of oral histories, the Atlanta Hawks’ Director of Interactive Marketing, Micah Hart posted a fantastic piece on NBA.com about “The Duel” between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins from game seven of the 1988 Eastern Conference semis. Hart’s piece is the essence of comprehensive, a well-documented, detailed piece that includes commentary from the major players involved in this great battle. Of course, it was the Celtics who walked away with the home victory on the shoulders of Bird’s 20-point fourth quarter while the Hawks lost again despite Wilkins’s 47-points. The monolithic dependence on winning and losing is only subject to histories like these that are able to transcend experience by branching out into rarely-explored dimensions. If Hart’s oral history isn’t enough, watch the video:

  • As far as off-season soap operas go, the Memphis Grizzlies are putting on the best show so far and Sean Deveney of Sporting News hipped us all to the ugly inner workings of this baffling franchise last week by digging up some not-so-redeeming tales about former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien. By former, I mean Levien was just fired a week ago. Deveney maps out a disturbing trend that’s followed Levien in different roles across the league: There was a 20-month stint in Sacramento which included a rift with Kings GM Geoff Petrie, a little over a year with the 76ers new ownership group that apparently ended when then-coach Doug Collins gave a “him or me” ultimatum, and now a 17-month stretch with the Grizzlies which has been, to say the least, confusing. Grizzlies’ owner, Robert Pera wrote on Twitter “I never really talked 1:1 with Joerger before this weekend.” Pera’s own role in this Memphis mess was highlighted by SI’s Chris Mannix in a piece posted today. And Pera responded with a slew of tweets aimed at Mannix and going far as questioning his “journalistic integrity” on Twitter. The Grizzlies’ roster is still intact, Z-Bo still wants to be there, and Joerger’s returning. Pera appears to be committed to building a winning team (particularly if we believe his Q&A with fans on Twitter), but all this distraction going on in the background is both a PR mess and unprofessional/unconventional (take your pick) way to go about sharing team strategies and media conflicts. Whether or not it erodes the foundation of the franchise will be determined over the next couple years. [Part of me wonders how owners like Pera and Mark Cuban reshape our expectations of owners – not just in the NBA, but in other sports. Cuban (no pun intended) is an outspoken maverick. Pera might be a PR nightmare and could likely benefit from a little bit of patience before responding on Twitter, but he appears to at least be passionate about this team. Prospective Seattle owner Chris Hansen made it a point to present himself as just a fan who wants basketball back in the Emerald City and has been known to have beers with fans and make himself highly accessible. While there doesn’t appear to be any revolution in ownership behavior, Pera, Cuban, and potentially Hansen, are showing us an alternative from the existing archetypical owner.]

  • In more off-the-court happenings, TMZ reported last week that Shelly Sterling (supposedly estranged wife of PR hot mess Donald Sterling) will handle the sale of the Clippers. While there’s plenty to explore here in terms of the legal wrangling going on in the background between the Sterlings, their legal team, Adam Silver and the NBA’s legal team, much of the story has shifted to two questions: Who are the prospective buyers and how much will the team go for? We’ve heard everyone from Floyd Mayweather and Oprah Winfrey to Magic Johnson and Grant Hill. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (and partner of Chris Hansen’s Seattle NBA bid) and Yao Ming (denied) are among others. If even half of these people are seriously interested, the competition should drive the price north of a billion dollars. The Bucks, listed by Forbes as the least valuable NBA franchise, just sold for $550-million and last year the Kings went for $534-million in a deal that also included Sleep Train Arena. And if we remember back to last year when the aforementioned Hansen was attempting to buy the Kings, he offered a whopping $625-million for the franchise and raised the market for teams to over half a billion dollars. So while it remains to be seen who ends up owning the Clippers, it’s safe to bet they’ll be paying more than a billion for them.
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Expressive Steve Ballmer, potential NBA owner

 

  • Back in the day when Seattle had the Sonics, they drafted a big redheaded kid out of Bakersfield, California named Robert Swift. Swift was fresh out of high school and showed up with a buzz cut and the unmarked ink-free skin of an innocent teenager – or so it seemed. It didn’t take long for whatever was going on inside to manifest itself outside and soon the kid from Bakersfield was covered in tattoos and wearing his hair long, tied back in the kind of style you’d almost expect to see from an axe-wielding behemoth in Game of Thrones. His descent has taken on mythic and mysterious proportions around these parts and in the Sunday issue of The Seattle Times, reporter Jayson Jenks added additional layers still-vague story. Where Jenks reveals new context is when he explores what appears to be a fractured relationship with Swift’s mother, Rhonda who’s writing a book that “will tell the whole truth. The good, the bad.” And in the span of just a few short paragraphs, the question of Swift’s finances comes up repeatedly. One can only imagine the truth as perceived by his mother and how it impacted the young Swift.

Before and After Swift

  • In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins crafts a glowing portrait of new commissioner Adam Silver. It’s an enlightening read in terms of understanding Silver’s background and how it shaped the man he is today. From a personal view, I’ve taken guarded skepticism of Silver. Most of this skepticism comes from my points of reference for sports commissioners which include money hoarding liability-avoiders like the NFL’s Roger Gooddell, arrogant story spinners like David Stern, grudge holding antiquarians like MLB’s Bud Selig, and of course, FIFA’s controversy craving president Sepp Blatter. Layer on a lifetime of experiencing stories about corrupt and lying politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths and I understand the sources of my distrust. And when Silver keeps telling us the age limit is the most important issue in the league, well, it’s hard to accept that this profile is built on much more than Silver’s ability to do the right thing with Donald Sterling. Skepticisms aside, it’s still worth the 15 minutes it takes to read.

 

  • The draft is about a month away and while Dancing with Noah is bringing some friends along for a mock draft that will post sometime soon, you can read different opinions and speculations from three unnamed scouts in this Ryen Russillo piece on Grantland.

 

  • Not much happened on this Memorial Day 2014 except Miami putting a hurting on the Pacers 102-90 to go up 3-1 in the series. Roy Hibbert scored zero points on 0-4 shooting and after talking crap about LeBron, Lance Stephenson was a non-factor with seven points on 3-7 shooting in 32 minutes. James was his usual all-time great self with 32pts, 10rebs, and 5asts while the aberration was Chris Bosh who stretched Hibbert to the perimeter, scored 25 points and had his best scoring game since February.
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