Friday, July 6, 2012

NBA Draft Final Report Card: Western Conference

That's right, I'm too lazy to find another picture.
As David Stern strode out to the loudest chorus of boos anyone has ever heard in history, I thought to myself, “this will be the greatest draft ever.” It was all there, every ingredient. David Stern egging on the crowd and flashing that evil grin. Volatile franchises with volatile decision makers choosing amongst volatile prospects. Smart franchises with smart decision makers aiming to take advantage of the previously mentioned morons. Any number of trade scenarios, up to and including a potential Dwight Howard trade. It looked to be epic…

…then the draft happened. By the time ESPN was showing Fab Melo highlights (Look, Fab Melo dunking with no one around him! Look, Fab Melo blocking a 5’11” guard! Get excited, Celtics fans!), I was done for the night. My wife and I packed the car and were on the road to my parent’s house even before pick #25 could be announced. Too many teams made smart decisions, draft boards held too securely, and no major trades went down. Heck, even the prospects were boring with their normal suits and blasé interviews.  It makes me long for the days of Jan Vesely’s extremely tall and kinda hot girlfriend. Basically, nothing happened all night. And also the Fab Melo pick makes me want to drown myself in a pool of my own tears.

So since this is all about grading the draft, let’s just start out by giving the 2012 NBA Draft a big, fat F. Terrible work, NBA! More stupidity next year from everyone who is not the Boston Celtics! After all, if I can’t even depend on Michael Jordan to screw things up, what’s the point in even watching?

Also, I’m giving ESPN’s draft coverage a poor grade for the second year in a row. Again, ESPN, let’s get these analysts a Blackberry, ok? Does nobody have Twitter around there? I should not know about the Tyler Zeller trade ten minutes before Jeff Van Gundy does, that’s all I’m saying. However, thanks to a hilarious slip-up by Andy Katz, I’m bumping them up to a D- this year. Good job, good effort?

Now that we’ve taken care of that, let’s hand out some actual grades. Yesterday we graded the Eastern Conference, so let's move on to the Western Conference today:

Dallas Mavericks  /  Grade: F-

SG/PG Jared Cunningham (#24)
C Bernard James (#33)
SF Jae Crowder (#34)

This can only be looked at as an unmitigated disaster for the Mavs. They passed on Terrence Jones, a high upside physical force that could have been a really nice piece, at #17 so they could land a pair of second round picks. Mistake #1. They passed on a trio of high upside prospects (Perry Jones, Marquis Teague, Tony Wroten) so they could draft a worse shooting, less talented version of Roddy Beaubois. Mistake #2. And to cap it all off, they blew both second round picks on guys who either have too little talent (James) or too little size (Crowder) to be NBA players. This, despite the fact that Quincy Miller, Will Barton, Doron Lamb, Tyshawn Taylor, Khris Middleton, Darius Miller, and a bunch of (reportedly) intriguing Euro-stash players were still on the board. Mistake #3. Add it all up, and you have what very well might be the worst draft of them all.

Denver Nuggets  /  Grade: B+

SG Evan Fournier (#20)
SF Quincy Miller (#38)
C Izzet Turkyilmaz (#50)

Hard to grade this draft since I know so little (aka. nothing) about Fournier. He’s French. That’s all I know.  My gut reaction would be to point out that Perry Jones, Marquis Teague, Tony Wroten, and a few other high upside guys were still on the board, but again, I can’t really judge Fournier. As it stands, Denver has a ton of guys anyways, so maybe taking a Euro-stash was a wise move.

Coincidentally, one of those high upside guys was still there at #38! It’s absolutely shocking to me that Quincy Miller would fall to #38, but major props to Denver for scooping him when they did. There’s a reason why he was a top 5 recruit coming out of high school, and there’s a reason why everyone keeps saying he’d be a top 10 pick had he come out next year. His knee simply was not at full strength last year, but it seems like nobody took that into consideration. Great get for Denver. Tough to see how he fits into the picture right now, but if he’s healthy, he very well might force his way onto the scene.

Golden State Warriors  /  Grade: B-

SF Harrison Barnes (#7)
C Festus Ezeli (#30)
SF Draymond Green (#35)
C Ognjen Kuzmic (#52)

As much as I rip on Harrison Barnes, he really had no business being there at #7. So when he was still on the board for Golden State, you know they had to feel like the luckiest team in the world. Imagine, an actual small forward to play small forward! Barnes gives them the size on the perimeter they’ve been lacking, and the (potential) defensive stopper they’ve been lacking (to put it mildly), while not sacrificing the offensive firepower that has become their identity. Perfect fit.

Festus Ezeli, though, I’m not so sure about. The question must be asked, when you’re as big and as nimble as he is, how do you only average 10/6 in the SEC?  That’s baffling to me. But, Golden State needed size, and Ezeli has an NBA-ready body. There’s value in landing a backup center, but I thought there were more talented guys they could have nabbed.

That goes double for the Draymond Green selection. Look, I know I’m in total disagreement with most analysts on this, but I don’t think Green can play in the NBA. Not a bit. He doesn’t have the size to operate down low, he doesn’t have the speed to guard on the perimeter, and he doesn’t have the shooting ability to be a Matt Bonner. He’s just not going to make it. Terrible selection, especially with Quincy Miller and others still on the board. Still, they landed Barnes and a backup center, so not a bad draft at all.

Houston Rockets  /  Grade: A+

SG Jeremy Lamb (#12)
SF Royce White (#16)
PF Terrence Jones (#18)

They didn’t end up with Dwight Howard…so what? Why should that color anyone’s view of their draft? The fact is that the Rockets turned #14, #16, and Chase Budinger into Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, Terrence Jones, Jon Leuer, and a lot of cap room. How is that not an A+ draft???

The thing I love about their picks is that they took three extremely high upside guys. From where they were picking, that has proven to be the best draft strategy time and time again. To me, White is the gem of the group. I’ve said it before and I’ll reiterate it now; I think Royce White is the fourth or fifth best prospect in this class. If he can keep his personal issues in check, White could end up being the type of star player Darryl Morey has been looking for. The same could be said of Terrence Jones, who is as physically gifted as anyone in the draft, or Jeremy Lamb (to a lesser extent), who has a very Rip Hamilton-esque game. All in all, I love the “throw as many irons in the fire as possible” strategy here. Odds are that at least one of these guys ends up being at least a starter, if not more.

Los Angeles Clippers  /  Grade: Who cares?

PF Furkan Aldemir (sold to Houston after the draft)

Does anybody else think the Clippers handed David Stern multiple selection cards during the lottery, simply out of habit? I do.

Clippers: (To David Stern) “Here you go, Mr. Stern! We’re so excited to get Harrison Barnes!”

David Stern: “For the last time, you aren’t picking in the lottery this year.”

Clippers: (stares incoherently at David Stern) “So...we pick next?”

Los Angeles Lakers  /  Grade: F

SG Darius Johnson-Odom (#55)
C Robert Sacre (#60)

The Lakers get an F not because of who they drafted, but because they dealt their first round pick for Ramon Sessions. Because Ramon Sessions was definitely the missing piece to the championship puzzle. As for the guys they got in the second…meh. I liked them both in college and I hope they manage to stick, but I doubt it. DJO has talent, but is really small. Sacre is big and somewhat skilled, but just never seems to get better. Oh well, what do you expect at the end of the second round?

Memphis Grizzlies  /  Grade: A-

PG Tony Wroten Jr. (#25)

Kudos to Memphis for not drafting conservatively. Plenty of teams in this range took “safe” guys whose upside is second or third guy off the bench. That can be the right move sometimes, but with so many high upside guys available, it made more sense to roll the dice. That’s exactly what Memphis did, taking one of the most volatile, yet wildly talented, players in the draft. Wroten is this year’s version of Rajon Rondo; supremely gifted athletically, a dynamic playmaker, questionable character, and a jump shot that’s more broken than most of my Xbox controllers. Could be a superstar, could be out of the league in two years. Risky, yeah, but it’s hard to let that kind of talent pass you by. Memphis was smart to take the risk.

Minnesota Timberwolves  /  Grade: C+

SF Robbie Hummel (#58)

I’m still not sold on their trade of #18 for Chase Budinger, but let’s at least look at this objectively. The average 18th pick has a career PER of just 12.5. Budinger’s is 14.4 through his first three seasons, and he has improved it in each of his last two. So as much as I personally think Terrence Jones or Perry Jones would have been a better use of #18, the raw historical data suggests David Kahn made a smart move (like I said, NBA-POCALYPSE!!!). Also, Minnesota had to start Wesley Johnson 64 times last season. That wouldn’t be a problem if he could average more than 6 PPG, shoot at least 40%, or post a PER of higher than 8.0. But he couldn’t, and Chase Budinger (and his 40% mark from downtown) represents a massive upgrade on Minny’s perimeter.

Wait, did I just sell myself on Chase Budinger??? Kill me now.

By the way, I’m in love with Robbie Hummel. If his knees really are as strong as some suggest, then he could be a nice get at #58. Other than my Kentucky guys and the new Celtics, there’s no one in this draft I’ll be pulling for harder.

New Orleans Hornets  /  Grade: A

PF Anthony Davis (#1)
SG Austin Rivers (#10)
SF Darius Miller (#46)

Anytime you get Anthony Davis, you get an A. They could have drafted me at #10 and still received an A! But I sense you’re tired of hearing about The Brow, so I’ll move on. (Note: I never tire of The Brow. Never!)

I also really like Darius Miller at #46. Clearly there’s some bias on my part since Miller was a 4 year Kentucky player, but I really think he’s a great sleeper. He has tremendous size (6’8”), underrated athleticism, a smooth stroke from downtown, an innate ability to score in traffic, and the versatility to play both wing positions and a point-forward type of position. Not only that, but Miller might actually be the most NBA ready player in the draft. I mean, consider the level of talent he’s faced in practice and played with in games the last four seasons. Wall, Cousins, Knight, Davis, MKG…14 NBA players in all. The guy can definitely play at this level, and has already shown a willingness and ability to be a role player/glue guy extraordinaire. Don’t be shocked if he’s a starter by the end of his rookie season.

However, as much as I love the previous two guys, I have some serious questions about the Austin Rivers pick, and that is precisely why New Orleans didn’t get an A+. Talent-wise, I don’t think the pick is too far off. Rivers has some serious offensive ability and his game seems like it will translate fairly well. But what position does he play? They already have Eric Gordon at SG, so there are no minutes for him there. And he definitely can’t play PG – the guy projectile vomits at the mere thought of passing the ball – leaving him with the role of ‘designated gunner off the bench.’ But again, you can’t have him and Gordon (another gunner) on the floor together for more than a few minutes per game. What does that leave Rivers with, 12-15 MPG? They used the #10 pick on a guy with no position who doesn’t fit into their rotation for more than 12-15 MPG? Hmm…sounds like a bad pick to me. If they really wanted a PG, they should have gone with Kendall Marshall.

Oklahoma City Thunder  /  Grade: A+

SF/PF Perry Jones (#28)

Oh geez, how could this ever happen?! Perry Jones, a top 5 talent, slides all the way down into the waiting arms of a burgeoning dynasty? A very real candidate to be the #1 overall pick last season slides aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way down to #28? Right into the lap of the OKC Thunder? Just, wow. Tremendous (and lucky) pickup by the Thunder.

Look, I know Perry Jones probably isn’t thrilled about falling this far, but he actually landed in a great situation. OKC has had tremendous success in developing young talent, and Jones can definitely benefit from the leadership and intensity of guys like Durant and Westbrook. In fact, Jones is a very similar player to Durant, so it might be a perfect mentor-mentee type of relationship. And God help us all if Perry Jones starts to realize his enormous potential.

Phoenix Suns  /  Grade: B+

PG Kendall Marshall (#13)

I like Marshall more than most, so my grading of the pick is going to be higher. No, he’s not the quickest or most athletic PG in the world, but his productivity at the highest level of the college game simply can’t be ignored. Sometimes, guys are just good at basketball even though their body or athleticism wouldn’t lead you to believe it. I think Marshall is one of those guys. He makes up for his deficiencies by having a tremendous feel for the game, and an otherworldly ability to see the floor and make the right plays. A lot of people make the Mark Jackson comparison, and I think that makes sense. He’s just too skilled and smart to not succeed.

Having said that, I would have taken Royce White. There are plenty of PG’s out there (they ended up with a good one in Goran Dragic), so Phoenix could have afforded to take a bit more risk. As I’ve said before, I think White is a potential superstar. That’s something Phoenix must have in order to contend again, and this was a good opportunity to swing for the fences.

Portland Trail Blazers  /  Grade: D

PG Damian Lillard (#6)
C Meyers Leonard (#11)
SG Will Barton (#40)

Damian Lillard, huh? Can someone please tell me why everyone is going crazy about this guy? Is it the fact that he’s a PG that doesn’t really pass, or is that 20+PPG in the Big Sky conference is super impressive? Whichever it is, I’m sure Portland is excited to land the drafts fourth most talented PG at #6 overall.  After all, I’m sure neither Harrison Barnes nor Andre Drummond would stand a chance in the mighty Big Sky!

And Meyers Leonard…geez, I can’t even muster up sarcasm for this pick, it’s so bad. How many stiff 7-footers have to fail for the league to realize how dumb it is to draft a guy just because he’s tall? And really, that’s all Meyers Leonard is. Too bad he has no idea how to use it. At 7’1”, it’s simply inexcusable that he averaged just 8.2 RPG in the Big Ten. Leonard would have been a nice project late in the first round, but taking him at #11 is just ridiculous.

On the bright side, Portland got a nice player at #40. Barton has the talent to be a really nice NBA player if he can get his shooting stroke together. Honestly, he’ll probably turn out to be their best draft pick.

Sacramento Kings  /  Grade: B

PF Thomas Robinson (#5)

While I’m slowly starting to come around on this pick, I still think the Kings should have traded down and taken Kendall Marshall. What this team truly lacks is someone who not only makes plays for everyone else, but also makes everyone else better in general. Still, Robinson fills a need as well, so I can’t say Sacramento screwed the pick up. He and Cousins are an excellent young frontcourt that will be, perhaps, the best rebounding duo in the league. Offensively, my comparison to Jason Thompson stands, but I’m definitely underrating him as a rebounder. Robinson posted a career TRB% of 22.2% (amazing, by the way) and rebounding has proven to be a highly transferable skill. Landing a 15-10 guy at #5 is nothing to sneeze at. At the very least, the Kings are now elite in one category, which is a nice step for them. Now, about that Jimmer pick…

San Antonio Spurs  /  Grade: Probably an A+ once this random guy turns into a starter

SG/PG Marcus Denmon (#59)

I’m not even going to try here. Pretty much everybody the Spurs touch turns into a quality starter, so let’s just assume Marcus Denmon is a stud and move on, shall we? Good.

Utah Jazz  /  Grade: C+

SG Kevin Murphy (#47)

You won’t believe this, but I cancelled my Tennessee Tech basketball subscription this past season, so I didn’t get to see Murphy play. What a shame. Chad Ford likes him, so I’ll throw a nice little + on the end of my C.

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