Anyway, in our search for the next big thing, we’ve found the next great sportswriter, Arjun Chandrasekhar. (If he’s not on your regular reading list, he should be. You can access his work by clicking here)
You see, as it turns out, Arjun stumbled across this site a few months back, and since then, well he’s been a thorn in my side.
Why a thorn? Well, because not only does Arjun comment on just about everything I write (Which I always appreciate), but because his comments are so well crafted, well thought out and so darn intelligent, that nine times out of 10, he makes me completely re-think and re-evaluate everything I’d just previously written.
And when Arjun contacted me a few weeks ago about potentially collaborating on something, I knew I had to take him up on it. Because regardless of what we ended up talking about, I knew it’d be enjoyable for the readers. Which is always my No. 1 concern.
All that brings us today.
After lengthy e-mail exchanges, Arjun and I settled on doing an NBA Mock Draft, similar to the one’s you’ve seen previously on ESPN.com with Chad Ford and Bill Simmons.
Simply put, we took every team in the NBA Draft Lottery (Picks 1-14), and gave our well informed, thought out opinions on how we think the draft should go down. Please keep in mind however, that these are the picks that we think teams should make, not necessarily the one’s we think they will make.
The conversation ended up very, very lengthy (but believe me, it’s a good lengthy. You’ll enjoy) and we decided to break the Great NBA Draft Debate into two parts, with Part I running right now, and Part II on Thursday.
With the first pick in the draft, Aaron Torres and the Washington Wizards are on the clock…
No. 1 Washington Wizards
Aaron selects…John Wall, PG, Kentucky
Arjun, thanks for taking the time to do this with me. As I’ve mentioned before, I respect you not only as a basketball fan, but more importantly as a thinker and a writer too. I only wish I’d have had half your ambition and drive when I was your age, and personally, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.
Anyway, enough with the mushy stuff…Let’s talk hoops.
I’m glad we did this, and I’m especially glad that circumstance led to the Wizards getting the No. 1 pick. Here’s why: I just came back from visiting a buddy in Washington D.C. last weekend (Thanks for hosting Chris!), and I’ve got to say that for a city with so many transplants from across the country and across the world, I was stunned at how passionate they are for their local teams.
Honestly, it was the most shocking part of the trip. You couldn’t find a sports bar (and believe me, with the World Cup on, we went to many) that didn’t have Caps banners on the walls, and Alexander Ovechkin’s ugly, toothless grin staring at you while you used a urinal. Stephen Strasburg has pumped life into the long-suffering baseball fan-base in the area. The Redskins will always be the Redskins. And while no one will admit publicly, off the record everyone is ready to start the John Wall era.
Which is why if you’re the Wizards, not only should you take Wall, you have to. He’s the most marketable guy to enter this draft since Greg Oden and Kevin Durant in 2007, and someone that the city is ready to embrace and rally around. If they go in any other direction the fans will be crushed. Especially after the organization traded Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison at Brendan Haywood at the All-Star break, and season-ticket holders were forced to suffer through 30 games of JaVale McGee and Earl Boykins to end the season.
Look, the Wizards decided last February to sacrifice the present, for the good of the future, and the lottery God’s decided to smile upon them. There’s no way they can take anyone but John Wall here, unless they want a riot outside the Verizon Center. In which case they should just make this fun and select Brian Zoubek or something.
You know what this whole situation reminds me of? Remember the 2006 NFL Draft? Reggie Bush was coming off a Heisman Trophy season, playing for the most glamorous program in college football, and was the game’s most recognizable player. Everybody had an opinion on Bush, and that opinion was, “This guy can’t miss.” Meanwhile, with the Houston Texans having the No. 1 pick that year, the whole town was ready for the Reggie Bush era, and merchandisers were buying vacation homes off the money they were set to make off selling his jerseys.
Then draft day came, Paul Tagliabue walked to the podium, and the Texans selected…Mario Williams.
Granted, that since that day you could make the case that Williams has been the more impactful player, but five years later there is no debate: Even though he isn’t quite who we thought he’d be, Bush is still one of the league’s most recognizable faces, and sells tickets, jerseys and merchandise. Houston may have made the better “football,” decision, but it still rubbed a lot of their fans the wrong way, and even now five years later, they don’t have a “face,” of their franchise. Well, unless you consider Brian Cushing’s personal trainer/doctor/steroid injector to be it. I’ll leave that up to you.
Anyway, for the same reasons that the Texans should have taken Bush, the Wizards need to take Wall. Evan Turner may be more polished now, and DeMarcus Cousins or Derrick Favors may turn into an All-Star in the low post. But Wall is a guy you can build a franchise around, someone that even the league’s older players will be excited to play with.
Oh, and by the way he also happens to a pretty darn good basketball player, and has every attribute you want from a franchise point guard. Just for ambiance sake, let’s take a look:
Does Wall make everyone around him better? Check.
Can he impact a game without scoring a point? Check.
Can he breakdown guy’s off the dribble, hit an open jumper and run your offense? Check, check, check.
Is he a winner and a leader? As someone who saw him rip the heart of UConn last December in person, the answer unequivocally is a check.
Which leaves us with a checkmate.
John Wall is the best player in this draft, and while quite honestly it probably shouldn’t have taken 800 words to make that point, there are probably 800 words I’m missing to describe how good he truly can be.
He’s the only pick the Wizards can make here.
No. 2 Philadelphia 76ers
Arjun selects…Evan Turner, Ohio State
Well Aaron, can’t argue the John Wall pick. No way you pass up on the best draft prospect since Oden/Durant (or arguably since Lebron). To me Wall is Rajon Rondo 2.0, only if Rondo was two inches taller and was 20% better at everything he did. The Derrick Rose comparisons are beneath him, as Wall is a much better shooter, a much much much better defender, and more of a pure point guard. Point is he’ll be special.
Speaking of the Wizards, let me ask you this: If the Wizards are trying to dump Gilbert Arenas contract, doesn’t this trade with the Spurs make sense: Richard Jefferson and Roger Mason from the Spurs for Gilbert Arenas and Quinton Ross (to even out the salaries and potentially give the Spurs their replacement for Bowen’s perimeter defense and shot-making)? Think about it: Washington facilitates it rebuilding process by getting rid of Arenas’s albatross contract in exchange for a couple expiring deals. Additionally they might need to trade Gilbert just to distance themselves from him after the gun incident.
As for the Spurs, if they think that they can just get healthy, give another go, and have a good shot at a title then I don’t know what to tell them. Duncan really showed signs of slippage last year (it just felt weird watching him not being able to dominate the paint), Ginobili (who admittedly had a fantastic bounce-back year) is getting up there in years and will most likely come back down to earth, and at this point Tony Parker isn’t going to suddenly morph into a superstar; he is what he is, an upper-tier point guard, excellent third guy, and perfect trophy husband.
The Spurs have to be willing to take a risk at this point if they want another chance at the title, and since they don’t have any cap room for the major free-agents, Gilbert is by far the most talented player available. To me the potential payoff is HUGE. Arenas at his best is one of the 20-25 best players in the league, and one of the few guys with the skill level and temperament to actually serve as a go-to guy on offense; you don’t find guys like that walking on the street, so if I was a team on the brink of a title with a chance to get someone like that I would have to at least consider it.
Is it a risk? Yes; he might totally abandon their team concept and sink the ship by himself; he might have another serious knee injury; he might just be washed up; and of course, he murders all potential cap flexibility they might have had. But even if the Hibachi experiment totally crashes and burns….well, it’s not like San Antonio was going to win a title without him anyway, and having extra cap flexibility wouldn’t change that.
Ok, now on to the Philadelphia pick. Let me start this off by saying that I think it’s a dumb idea for Philadelphia to simply use this pick as an incentive for teams to take Elton Brand’s contract off their hands, as some rumors suggest they will try to do.
The idea isn’t to make money; it’s to win basketball games. There’s no doubt that signing a 29-year old coming of an entire season worth of missed games and a major foot injury to that large of a contract was horribly stupid; but it would be just as dumb to give up all your hope for the future just to correct that mistake.
To me you have to keep Brand (rolling the dice on him getting completely healthy, because he’s skilled enough that he can still regain 70% of his original form, which is still better than a lot of guys in the league), take the best player here, and build around Iguodala (a fantastic defender and finisher in transition), your lottery pick, and Jrue Holiday (a promising point guard with solid playmaking and Payton-like potential on defense).
As for whom the pick should be, I think you have to go with Evan Turner.
Cousins and Favors probably have more potential, but to me Evan Turner has to be the clear number two guy. To me he’s the next Joe Johnson: not a true superstar, but a next-tier guy that can carry the offense and be the best player on the floor on a lot of nights. He will need to dominate the ball to be effective, but at the end of the day he’ll produce as a do-it-all wing player. He can score off the dribble, through his mid-range game, or on post-ups, and the best part is that he’s got a dash of the Shaun Livingston gene in that he’s not just a point forward but rather is capable of being a pure point guard for stretches. There’s a difference between a guy like Caron Butler, a 6-7 guy who happens to be a good enough dribbler to bring the ball up and initiate the offense, and someone like Livingston, who’s a pure, pass-first point guard that happens to be 6-7; Turner falls in the second category. Seriously, Ohio State often utilized him as a pure 1 – that’s how good his vision and ball-handling are.
Defensively he’s good enough that he’ll combine with Iggy and Jrue Holiday to form the NBA’s best trio of perimeter defenders, and has to be considered the next best guy. Favors and Cousins (the only two other guys talented enough to merit consideration here) are way too raw and risky, and Cousins won’t be a good fit anyway on a team that should be playing up-tempo.
Regardless, I know this will be the pick for sure because Doug Collins is the one running the show. First of all he’s a veteran coach who will be pulling out all the stops to win now (to the point that it’s fairly likely that he makes some dumb trade for a veteran that’s better now but doesn’t have anywhere near as bright of a future as Turner, but for now we’re assuming he keeps the pick), so it probably makes sense to take the most NBA-ready guy available.
More importantly, the only thing Collins knows how to do is to make the game unbearably slow and call a bunch of set plays for his best player. That’s all he did with Michael Jordan in Chicago, that’s all he did with Grant Hill in Detroit, that’s all he did for Michael Jordan in Washington, and now he needs another skilled wing player through whom he can run set plays (literally) every time down. Collins has no use for Favors or Cousins because all he wants to do is run everything through a wing player that can create for himself and others; thus they need Turner, because Andre Iguodala sure as hell isn’t that guy.
From a stylistic standpoint Derrick Favors actually makes some sense because he’s so athletic and would give them the mobile big man that they need to play the fast-breaking style that suits their personnel. Cousins makes no sense because not only is he too much of a knucklehead to be considered above Turner, but also as a traditional low-post big man he wouldn’t really mesh well with their athletic wing players.
But given his talent level versatility, I think it’s clear that Evan Turner has to be the pick.
Follow on Twitter @Aaron_Torres (Aaron) and @Arjunc12 (Arjun)
No. 3 New Jersey Nets
Aaron selects…DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky
Wow, Arjun, you left me a lot to think about here.
I suppose we should start with the Arenas-Jefferson trade, because on paper it looks great. In one corner you’ve got the Wizards getting rid of Arenas and his contract, and picking up a nice player on the wing to run with Wall. Remember how good Richard Jefferson was when he played with Jason Kidd? Remember how he hasn’t been so good since? I’m just thinking out loud here.
And of course on the other side, you’ve got a still really good Arenas going to San Antonio, where the structure is there for him to succeed. Good veteran leadership, good coaching, a core group that’s going on a decade of excellence together. The only way it doesn’t work on paper, is if this trade breaks Arenas parole agreement, and he isn’t allowed to leave the city’s borders. I’m kidding. What, too soon?
However, I just don’t see the Spurs making this move. Yes they’re old. Yes Jefferson was a bigger dud in San Antonio this year than Sex and the City 2 was in theaters this summer (Not that I saw it or anything…I swear). Yes, Arenas is as you said, one of the 20-25 best players in the league, even after all his injuries. Then again Arenas couldn’t co-exist with a bunch of veterans (Butler, Jamison) when he was the man in Washington. How are we to assume things would be any better in San Antonio, when he might be the second or third option? Factoring Gilbert’s contract and injury concerns, I just don’t see the Spurs doing this trade. Even if their “big three,” are fading faster than I did at the bar on my last night of vacation.
Anyway, let’s get back to the draft talk and start with Philadelphia. I’m not as high on Turner as some, but have no problem with the Sixers picking him here, especially if they think he can co-exist with Iguodala. Even if it doesn’t work out, Turner is younger and cheaper than Iggy, who has proven that he’ll never be better than the best player on a bad team. If he isn’t happy, who cares? Send him somewhere else.
As for the No. 3 pick, let me start by saying that this is a lengthy answer (I know, everything we’ve written so far is lengthy), so it might be time to grab a blanket, pillow, and warm cup of milk. But here goes:
If you’re asking me who I think will be the pick in real life, I actually think that New Jersey see’s Cousins as its fourth option.
First off, if Turner falls to them, I think it’s a no-brainer, they take him and ship Devin Harris off. Even if it means trading him for a bag of basketballs to some team in the Siberian Premier League.
If Turner isn’t there, my guess is they prefer Derrick Favors over Cousins. More athletic, fewer issues. Also, I’m just going to throw it out there, I don’t think we should be sleeping on Wes Johnson here either. He fits in nicely on the wing between Harris at the point and Brook Lopez down low, and becomes even more valuable if the New Jersey Fightin’ Prokhorov’s think they can land either Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer in free agency, which from all reports, they do.
Either way if I’m the Nets, I’m not waiting for free agency, and instead taking one of the most physically mature college big men I’ve ever seen in Cousins.
The guy is a straight up beast. He’s huge, with huge shoulders, a huge wingspan and huge hands, not to mention quick feet and a soft touch around the hoop. With Avery Johnson stepping into the role of new sheriff in town as coach of this team, you know they’re going to play half court basketball. And in a few years, who’s a better frontcourt combo than Cousins and Lopez? They’d make such sweet music Nets co-owner Jay-Z might even write a song about them (Ok, that joke was bad. Really bad. Sorry. Is it too late to edit it out?).
Now, with that, we know the negatives on Cousins. He can be a bit immature and needs to keep his weight in check. Then again, isn’t that why Avery Johnson and the strength and conditioning staff are on payroll for?
As for his bad attitude, it’s overrated…Sort of.
Look, what it comes down to with DeMarcus Cousins is this: Was he immature at the beginning of this past season? Yes. But at the same time, this is a kid that admitted by the end of his stay in the Bluegrass, that playing for Kentucky was the first time he ever felt like part of family. Seriously.
And that’s the thing. It’s easy to pigeonhole Cousins a certain way, but I also watched almost every one of his games last year. The kid matured before our eyes. And when he did open up, he became one of the one loveable, egregious, and enjoyable to follow players I can ever remember in college basketball (Believe me, I wanted to write a separate column on just this, but time didn’t allow). Cousins was the kid with the hard chip on his shoulder in November, who all of a sudden was joking with the media and showing up to press conferences in goofy costumes by March. Believe me when I say that John Wall may have been the most important player to that team, but Cousins was unequivocally the most beloved Kentucky player this past spring. And if you don’t believe me, I’ve got an inbox full of e-mails that’ll tell you otherwise.
What it really comes down to with Cousins though is the support system you put around him. No guy in this draft needs to go to a “good,” situation like Cousins does. That’s why I was almost hoping that the Hornets or Rockets would sneak into the first three picks and take this kid, so that Chris Paul or Yao Ming could show him the ropes and show him how to be a pro.
I’m telling you right now Arjun, in a few years, Cousins can be one of the best players in this league with the right guys showing him around. He may also never reach that potential if he goes to some screwy situation like Golden State or the Clippers.
With that, I believe New Jersey is a good fit, as crazy as that sounds. Yes Harris and Lopez are young, but they’re also good guys who will keep Cousins on the straight and narrow.
As for the on court product, I watched a lot of Nets game this past season because they were shown locally. And let me tell you, the wins are coming. Even more if they take Cousins here.
No. 4 Minnesota Timberwolves
Arjun selects...Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
I had been preparing to berate you for going with the consensus pick in Derrick Favors over the right pick in DeMarcus Cousins. But then you actually made the right call – so kudos.
Look, I like Favors – I think that in time he could become a more cerebral Josh Smith. But to me Cousins is just a special talent because it’s so hard to find big men that are that skilled, yet that physical and that rebound so well; he reminds me of a young Jermaine O’Neal in terms of his combination of post skills and physicality. As we saw with the Lakers, when you pair up two talented big men (and trust me, Lopez and Cousins are both all of 7 feet – their listed heights are legit) that can score and rebound it creates a unique advantage that most teams simply can’t match up with.
I’m with you on the personality – I don’t think this guy is Rasheed Wallace, Latrell Sprewell or anything like that, I think he just has some immaturity rather than inherent personality issues; he’s a good kid that just needs some guidance, something I think Avery Johnson can and will provide. Earlier in the season I thought he was the most overrated player in the country; I thought his attitude and conditioning were serious issues, and that he lacked any definable basketball skill other than his bulk; but the more I’ve watched him the more impressed I’ve become. I’m amazed that he’s strong enough to simply overpower most power forwards but skilled enough (perfect footwork, can score with either hand) that he doesn’t rely on that.
To me his weight is more of an issue than anything else, because according to John Calipari his ideal weight is 275, and he hasn’t been anywhere near that, even during the season. But if he gets in shape and respects Avery Johnson then he’ll be a monster, and the Nets will have the best frontcourt in the NBA in five years.
Of course, now that only makes my turn much more intriguing. If Cousins were available instead of Favors I’d snatch him up in a heartbeat because not only would he be a cut above everyone else left, he’d fill Minnesota’s need for a legitimate center.
So you’re probably thinking, “Wait – isn’t Favors clearly better than anyone else left at this point? Why not just take him?” And that’s not completely wrong – right now Favors is the only person left that I would be willing to bet money on being an All-Star. There a couple of other guys that might have the potential to be All-Stars (I happen to like Xavier Henry), but they’re long shots and Favors is probably the only surefire star left.
The problem with Favors: Minnesota is already stacked at power forward – they realized a year too late that Love and Al Jefferson can’t play together (a problem which could have been avoided if they had just taken Brook Lopez in the 2008 draft, a move which most of the blogosphere was actually calling for at the time!!!) and spent the year trying to trade one of them.
On one hand, Favors’s skills complement the other two guys extremely well – if you draft him you’d have a beast low-post scorer (Jefferson), a highly skilled passer and shooter (Love), and an athletic high-flyer/defensive anchor (Favors); if we could magically make either Jefferson or Love 7-feet tall (not Favors; his game wouldn’t be as effective if he was taller), then I’d take Favors to give my team an awesome rotation of three big-men with complementary skills.
However, as far as I know we can’t exactly enlarge a person spontaneously, so ultimately I think I have to reach here, because there’s just no way you can justify adding to an already big logjam at the four, especially when you have a similarly cramped situation at point guard. In that case, the pick has to be Wesley Johnson.
Personally, I think Wes Johnson is one of the more overrated players in the draft. He’s actually 22 years old, meaning his upside probably isn’t what people think it is. More importantly, I watched him play, and while he was good, it’s not like this guy was completely standing out head and shoulders above everyone else. Worst case: he’s Trevor Ariza with better ball-handling and mid-range shooting; and eventually I think he can be a Rudy Gay/Richard Jefferson (Nets version) type of player, but some of the Shawn Marion comparisons are a little over the top (speaking of Rudy Gay, it would not be smart of the Timberwolves to splurge a huge contract on Rudy; he’s not a franchise player, and he won’t turn a bad team into a good one; just save that money for the Ricky Rubio sweepstakes).
Still, the Timberwolves need a wing; Johnson happens to fill that need while being the best player available besides Favors. Thus, if I can’t swap one of my power forwards for a center, I’m taking Wesley Johnson.
No. 5 Sacramento Kings
Aaron selects...Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech
First off Arjun, I’ve got the say that I’m upset that you’re not upset with my DeMarcus Cousins pick. Shame on you!
While most of the mainstream media was going with the easy story angle and ripping Cousins all season long, I was defending him like he was my little brother or something. Of course now that he’s killing it in workouts and doing even better in interviews, everyone’s coming to the same consensus on the guy that you and I did five months ago, he’s really not a bad seed. It’s too bad you see him for what he actually is though, because I was ready to argue over Cousins until my face turned blue, and then call this whole debate off in one big fit of rage. I guess we’ll have to agree to agree on Cousins. Darn it.
As for Minnesota at No. 4, in real life they’re praying that the Nets don’t snatch up Wes Johnson a pick ahead of them, because as you said, the Timberwolves already have a log jam at the power forward, and really don’t have a play (other than to trade the pick) if Johnson isn’t there. I do agree with you that Johnson is a bit overrated, but the Rudy Gay comparison is an apt one.
Even better I like your move for the T-Wolves to just bring in Gay via free agency, especially when you realize that Rudy is less than one calendar year older than Johnson (Honestly look it up) with four more years of NBA experience. If they can’t get Rudy though, Johnson is a nice fall back plan. Not to mention that he’s already legitimate BFF’s with Minnesota point guard Jonny Flynn from their year at Syracuse together while Johnson was redshirting. Fun fact of the day.
Anyway, let’s go to Sacramento. The way things have played out in this debate, they’ve got a really tough choice between Derrick Favors and Georgetown’s Greg Monroe. Favors was a consensus top 3 pick a week ago, but has seen his stock plummet in recent days. He’s been getting killed by Cousins everywhere they work out together, and Minnesota GM David Kahn recently went on the record and said that Favors came into his workout there out of shape. Not good.
Monroe on the other hand is killing it, and has been to Sacramento twice in the last week for workouts. I saw the kid play in the Big East Tournament in March, and believe me, he’s more skilled offensively than anyone realizes, and also is a lot longer in person than he comes off on TV. Any team in this league will be lucky to have him.
But I’m going to go ahead and take Favors with this pick.
Are both his attitude and game a bit immature? Sure. But he’s also not even 20-years-old yet. And remember too, that Monroe was considered immature just a year ago as he was finishing his freshman year at Georgetown. Now he’s much more “polished,” and will find his way into the top 5-7 picks of this draft. It’s amazing what a difference a year can make for someone, and I have no doubt Favors will be carrying himself much better at this time in 2011 than he is now.
On the court though, I think it’s hard for us to gauge as fans what Favors is truly capable of. He was saddled with some of the worst guards in college basketball last season, literally. Of all 65 teams to make the NCAA Tournament in 2010, Georgia Tech led them all in turnovers per game. Is his offensive game as limited as we suspect? Or was he simply saddled with players that didn’t know how to get him the ball in position to score? Too early to say I think.
Even if he never develops into a great offensive player, he’s as you said, “A more cerebral Josh Smith,” someone who at the very least can run the court, rebound, block shots, and finish in transition. And believe me, with Tyreke Evans running the point in Sacramento, this team will be playing plenty in transition. Plus with the recent addition of Sam Dalembert, Favors will only have to worry about covering power forwards rather than moving over and taking on centers defensively.
Monroe might be more skilled now, but doesn’t have the upside of Favors and will never be the athlete Favors already is.
The Kings have a very nice cornerstone for years to come with Evans and Favors.
That concludes Part I. Be sure to check back for Part II, where Aaron and Arjun debate picks 6-14 on Thursday...
Also for their take on all things sports, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres and Arjun @Arjunc12)