Simply put, this is the strangest NBA Draft I can ever remember. Coming off an epic NBA Finals a few weeks ago, with a lockout looming, and having less star power than the Oakland A’s batting order, this draft is drier than the chicken my sister cooked for dinner the other day. Honestly, why even bother talking about what’s going to happen Thursday night? Especially when its way more fun psychoanalyze LeBron James instead!
Interestingly, I’m not the only who feels this way. I (begrudgingly) listen to sports talk radio every day, and the more I listen to, the more it sounds like the hosts were all sitting around earlier this week and said to themselves, “Oh crap, the draft is this week?” Then they hastily put together a tangent on Jimmer Fredette, before moving back to the NFL lockout, LeBron, or something else (Then again, at least we have Jimmer. If there weren’t a polarizing white guy involved, I don’t know even know if the NBA would bother holding a draft, period).
Either way, after doing a nearly 6,000 word back-and-forth with a reader of my site named Arjun before last year’s NBA Draft, we went ahead and skipped it this year. Arjun is busy with school, and honestly, I just don’t have as strong opinions as I did on this year’s crop of draftees as I did at this time last year. As Arjun said to me, “After the top five we would basically be arguing, ‘My mediocre flawed guy is way better than your mediocre flawed guy.’” Hate to say it, but he’s right.
Of course with that said, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have some opinions on the draft. By now, you should know me better than that.
Here are 10 of them.
1. Kyrie Irving Is The Only Star In This Draft:
I already wrote 2,000 words on Kyrie last month, so I won’t get into it too much here. Yet at the same time, one thing that really bothers me about the NBA Draft every year, is people who watch no college basketball other than a tournament game or two, come out with opinions on the draft that have no validity what-so-ever. Quite frankly, it’s insulting to everyone like me and others, who watch college basketball all season.
Well this year, to quote Jon Gruden, one of “those guys,” is Kyrie Irving. Since so few people watch college basketball before January (if not March), nobody realizes just how good this kid was when he healthy. And with due respect to Kemba Walker, Fredette, whoever, Irving was the best player in the sport, and it wasn’t even close. He was certainly the best pure point guard.
Honestly, just go back and watch those early Kyrie games. Go ahead and watch those games against Marquette and Kansas State and Butler before he got hurt. The guy did everything you’d want from a point guard. He was unstoppable one-on-one. Got his teammates involved, and in the process made a lot of them look better than they were (Yes I’m talking to you Mason Plumlee). And could seemingly score at will. As I said in my column last month, he might not be the hyper athlete that John Wall was last year, but he is a better pure point guard.
Plus, when you start talking about him off the court, the dude has less character issues than a Jonas brother. He grew up in a basketball family (his dad played at Boston University and overseas), he was well-coached in college (I hate to admit it, but Coach K handled him about as well as anyone could have) and according to his Wikipedia page, he’s even promised his family he’ll go back to college during the summers, and graduate within the next few years (Whether Wikipedia is a valid source or not, I’m not positive. But that sure does sound good on paper, right?).
So what’s the big hold-up with Kyrie? Well all the people that are questioning him are same ones who never saw him play until the NCAA Tournament.
Yes Kyrie wasn't great in March, buthen again, was it his fault? You know, since he was coming off injury and hadn’t played in two months? And because he was out of shape. And since- no matter how much talent he had- Kyrie was inevitably going to throw off Duke’s chemistry? As I said in my column last month, Coach K (who I never like defending) was put in a no win situation with Irving: Kyrie was undoubtedly his best player and someone who he had to play if healthy. But that didn't necessarily give the team the best chance to win.
And because he was labeled as “a potential No. 1 pick,” everyone was watching that NCAA Tournament extra close, and Irving didn’t perform up to expectations. And now, those same people are questioning the validity of the Cavaliers using the No. 1 pick on him. And quite frankly, they’re wrong.
I’m not saying that I’m the foremost expert on anything, but I promise you this: If your opinion on Kyrie is based on three NCAA Tournament games, well, you’re a fool. Go find a tape of the Michigan State game when he had 31 points. Or the next game against Butler when he had 21. The guy can play. And he should be the No. 1 pick.
2. The Timberwolves Make Me Laugh:
As a general rule, I don’t like to make passing judgments on stuff. I always feel like if I’m going to put something in writing on this site, I better have a strong opinion that I can back up. Which is why in large part, I’ve never made fun of Minnesota GM David Kahn. While everyone else has had plenty of fun at his expense, I never felt like I had a valid or justified reason to do the same.
But really, it has more to do with the Ricky Rubio situation than anything to do with this draft.
When it comes to Rubio, I obviously have no idea if he will be a good pro or not. I tend to think he’ll be better than most.
But at the same time, the idea that after giving the Timberwolves the Heisman stiff-arm for two years, Rubio is all of a sudden interested in coming to the NBA, right after a terrible season in Spain, is preposterous. Quite frankly, it’s the most transparent, “Holy crap, I better cash in now before the jig is up,” move I’ve ever seen. Actually, you know what it was like? When a dude breaks up with his girlfriend because a cuter girl shows interest, then he goes after that cuter girl, gets turned down, and goes crawling back to his girlfriend. That was Rubio. He just pulled the classic, “Hey baby, I still love you. I don’t know what I was thinking. Here are some flowers and a shiny bracelet. Do you forgive me?” on Minnesota. And incredibly… they bought it!!!!
And not only did they buy it, but they gave him a fat new contract as a reward! Right before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to go into play. Are you kidding me? And really, that’s the most preposterous part of it all: It took two full years, but the Timberwolves finally had leverage with Rubio. And they totally, undoubtedly blew it. Unbeeeelievable!
As for the upcoming draft, I can’t help but laugh for another reason. In a year where there’s only one sure fire, can’t miss guy, of course Minnesota ended up with the No. 2 pick. It’s like I said last year, how many times in a row can the Timberwolves draft in the lottery, and end up without a superstar? What is this, like 15 years straight? Although in their defense, I suppose Kevin Love emerged this year. Then again, how long is that dude really sticking around for?
Basically, the Wolves are screwed. No one at No. 2 really fits their needs, in large part, because they have no needs. When you draft this high, this many years in a row, you’re going to end up with young talent at every position. The problem of course is that everyone knows that, meaning it won’t be easy to make a trade. Essentially, Minnesota is damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
Only the TWolves.
3. Brandon Knight Is Not A Point Guard:
This once again goes back to the whole, “Let’s watch four NCAA Tournament games, and make sweeping judgments about guys,” thing. Ok cool. Except I probably watched 30 of Knight’s 39 games at Kentucky this year, and I am here to grab my megaphone, stand on my soap box and preach to the masses: Listen up folks, Brandon Knight is not a point guard!
Now, am I saying that Brandon Knight can’t or won’t be a good player? I’m not saying that at all. The guy has skill and a legendary work ethic (He’s been a 4.0 student basically forever). I do think that he’ll find a role in the NBA, and play for a very long time. He’s just too driven not to succeed.
That role just won’t be as a point guard.
Understand that Knight has a lot of skill, but it’s skill that just doesn’t necessarily translate to being a point guard. His best traits aren’t running an offense and getting others involved (like Irving for example), but instead catching the ball off screens and either hitting jumpers or taking it to the hole. Think a bigger, stronger Rip Hamilton. Not John Wall.
Again, Knight will be a good player, I have no doubt about that.
But if you’re drafting him at point guard, you’re going to end up disappointed.
4. Please Don’t Ask Me About The European Guys:
So it looks like Enes Kanter and Jan Vessely will be Top 10 picks, with Jonas Valanciunas going in the Top 15, depending on how his European buyout works out. Which is wonderful, it really is. Just please don’t ask me my opinion on those guys. I don’t have any. Quite frankly, I can’t even pronounce their names correctly.
With that said, the one thing I know is this: Read enough scouting reports and talk to enough people, and there are plenty who think that Kanter might have been the best player in the world, for his age group last year. Better than Irving. Better than Knight. Better than Jared Sullinger or Harrison Barnes. Not to mention that if you talk to Kentucky fans, they firmly believe that had he been in their lineup, Kanter would’ve put them over the top, and led the Wildcats to a National Championship. Which kind of makes sense, since, if they were a Final Four team with a potential top five pick sitting in the stands, what would they have been with him?
I don't know if that opinion holds any water, but it's at least something to think about.
5. I Also Have No Opinion On Another Foreign Player, Bismack Biyombo:
To the point that up until like a week ago, I was literally calling him “Bismarck,” and not “Bismack.”
Still, isn’t it going to be fun to root for a guy named “Bismack,” next year?
6. Kemba Walker Will Be A Solid NBA Pro:
And honestly, that’s not even my UConn homerism talking (Or at least, I’m not trying to let it seep out). Still, having followed Kemba so closely over the last three or so years, I feel about as confident in discussing him, as anyone in this draft. And what I’ll say this: I just don’t see any way he doesn’t succeed at the NBA level (Sorry for the double negative. It was for emphasis).
Understand that all those things you’re hearing about Kemba Walker now- that he’s too small; that he’s not a real point guard; that he won’t be able to get his shot off against bigger guys- is what he’s been hearing his whole life. He heard it when he was being recruited and didn’t pick up big-time scholarship offers until blowing up after his junior year of high school, and he heard it at UConn too. After replacing A.J. Price his sophomore year, a lot of people wondered if Kemba would ever fully put it together. Well he did, and obviously UConn has another trophy to show for it.
And really, that’s the thing about Walker. When it comes to his game, there might be guys that are more talented than him. Some who are more naturally gifted. But there is no one…=no one who will work harder than Kemba. Quite frankly, work ethic has gotten him to this point as much as any anything else.
Look, I’m not saying the guy will be a perennial All-Star or Hall of Famer. But he will have a niche, and will play a long time.
I also feel the same way about…
7. Jimmer Fredette:
Ah, the polarizing white guy! I already know what you’re thinking, “Man, AT, why’d it take so long for you to get to him?” My bad!
Anyway, I’m not going to give you the run around on Jimmer. He’s the classic, “needs to go to the right place, and right environment to succeed,” guy. Put him in an offense where- at a generously listed 6’2- he’s going to have to handle the ball, set up others, score and defend the other team’s best player, he will not succeed. Period. But put him in a place where someone else handles the ball and he’s free to catch and shoot and do Jimmer things, well I think he’s going to be pretty damn good.
Which is why to me, I think the perfect spot for him is Sacramento (How many times have you heard anyone say that?). The Kings already have a guy who can handle the ball, and who, when he pleases, is really good at getting others involved. Now add Jimmer to the mix, with Tyreke Evans driving the lane and kicking out to him for open three’s? I’m wetting my pants just thinking about it. Plus, with Evans being able to defend bigger shooting guards, Jimmer could actually guard guys his own size. Then again, it’s not like anyone in Sacramento plays defense anyway.
On a bit of a side note, I was thinking about how when it comes to the NFL Draft, all anyone talks about is whether guys “fit” or not. Does this guy “fit” playing quarterback under center? Does this defensive end “fit” in a 3-4 defense? Yet no one does the same with basketball. They think that every player and every team need to match in a one size fits all, across the board, “He’s either going to be good or he isn’t,” situation.
Well, evaluating basketball players isn’t that simple, and Jimmer is the classic case of that. I never thought I’d say this, but I really hope he ends up in Sacramento.
8. Whoever Ends Up With Either Of The Morris Twins Will Be Very Happy:
For the third time today, this comes back to, “Did you watch college basketball or not,” this year. And when it comes to the Morris twins, I’m going to ask again. Did you watch these guys play? I mean, did you really watch them?
Because for those who might’ve caught a Kansas game or two in passing, they probably saw the Morris twins as prototypical low post bangers. Guys that protected the rim, controlled the boards, and dominated the paint.
However, for those who really watched the Morris twins, they saw the development of the two most complete big guys in this draft. Yes, each is comfortable playing in the paint as a traditional power forward. At the same time, both are also comfortable stepping out and taking mid-range jumpers, and each is a gifted passer (Granted, I don’t know how much of that had to do with their weird bionic twin telepathy, But still).
Whoever gets these guys, has gotten a steal.
Speaking of Kansas, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…
9. I Think Josh Selby Will Be Better Than People Think:
Believe me, there isn’t anyone who was less of a Josh Selby fan last year than I was. No one played with a more entitled, “I don’t have to listen to the coach, I don’t care about my teammates. I’m gonna do what I want!” chip on their shoulder than Selby did. Basically he fit in at Kansas about as I would at one of Jimmer's alcohol free social events. As in, not at all.
At the same time, it was just one year ago that Selby was ranked the No. 1 high school player in his class, ahead of Irving, Knight and everyone else. And it was even more recently that Bill Self called him the “most skilled player I’ve ever recruited.” Some of that might have been hyperbole, but you don’t garner that kind of respect without actually being pretty good at the game.
And that’s the thing. There are just too many people who watched him dominate too many games at the high school and AAU levels to believe this guy will be a flop. Plus, his one skill, scoring the basketball, is something that will never go out of style in the NBA. Not to mention that with all the off the court stuff going on last year, Selby never seemed to have total focus at Kansas. Maybe with time to simply think about just basketball, and without the intense hype around him, Selby can relax, and do what comes naturally to him.
All I’m saying is, in the world we live in, we’re so quick to label someone, “The next big thing,” or “bust,” without ever taking the time to consider that’s there a middle ground there too. Well early on Selby was the former and then he quickly became the latter, when in actuality, he’s somewhere in between.
Personally, I think the guy is worth taking a shot on.
10. Here are A Few More Thoughts On A Few More Guys:
Kawhi Leonard: He’s not as big as you’d think, but he’s got such long arms, and such big hands, that he plays more like 6’9 than 6’7.
In any normal year he'd go 12-15. The problem is, this year isn't any normal year, and he's going to probably be picked in the Top 10. He isn't going to play like a Top 10 player, but will contribute somehow, in some capacity for a long time.
Klay Thompson: All I’m gonna say is, the dude averaged 21 points a game in a pretty darn good conference.
His game reminds me of Austin Daye. Only good.
Tristan Thompson: If you watched any of Texas’ games on Big Monday last year, you heard Bobby Knight practically have an orgasm any time he talked about Tristan Thompson.
Understand, I don’t trust Knight’s judgment on most things, but basketball is one of them.
Kenneth Faried: For anyone looking for size, toughness and grit, Faried is their guy. Yes, I’m talking to you Miami Heat.
Tobias Harris: Ask anyone who ever spent time around Harris, and they speak of him like people used to speak of Gandhi.
I don’t know what that means in a basketball sense. But I feel like it’s something you should know.
Tyler Honeycutt: Athletic wing. A guy who many think came out a year too early. Used to play at UCLA. It worked out pretty well for Trevor Ariza, no?
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