NBA Draft Preview
By Charlie Zegers
RotoWire Staff Writer
Ordinarily, I'm not to keen on rookies as fantasy options. Too often, players come into the NBA needing to learn new positions. Or put on some bulk. Or how to succeed when they can't get by on size or athleticism alone.
That's especially true of high lottery picks - who often need to adjust to the fact that they'll lose more games as rookies than they did in their entire college and high school careers.
But a funny thing happened on the way to this year's lottery. The top two teams just aren't that bad.
Look at some of the players on the Chicago and Miami rosters: Dwyane Wade. Shawn Marion. Kirk Hinrich. Ben Gordon. Luol Deng. These are not the teammates lottery picks usually get. A wide variety of factors put the Bulls and Heat on top of the lottery - injuries, internal turmoil, trades and coaching changes - but both teams seem well-positioned for a quick turnaround. And that means the prohibitive favorites to be chosen first and second - Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose - won't be toiling for terrible teams. The won't be forced into leadership roles while they're still getting their feet wet at the next level.
And that could mean the best rookie seasons we've seen in a long time.
Here's my projection for the lottery. We'll take another look after the June 26 draft.
1. Chicago Bulls: Michael Beasley [PF]
I keep hearing that this has become a point guard league - that the success of guys like Chris Paul and Deron Williams has made point guard the new "no brainer, you draft the elite guy at this position" position in the draft.
Instead, I see two teams that have the ability to score from the perimeter and in the paint - and the paint is where the Bulls have been hurting for years.
Even when the Bulls were one of the Eastern Conference's top teams, they were short on frontline scoring; all those trade rumors that had Kevin Garnett or Pau Gasol headed to Chicago surfaced for a reason. Michael Beasley is already a better scorer than any big on Da Bulls' roster, and should emerge as a really nice complement to all those active, athletic 4/5s like Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas and Drew Gooden.
One potential negative to this pick: Beasley is reportedly… something of a "free spirit," on a team that already has all the free spirits it can handle. It will be interesting to see what sort of coach Vinny Del Negro turns out to be - but a team featuring Beasley, Noah, Gooden and Larry Hughes would very likely make a Scott Skiles-type disciplinarian's head explode.
Rose, on the other hand, might be a much safer pick. He's a local kid., and he's considered an excellent leader - leadership wasn't exactly a strong point on last year's Bulls roster. And adding Rose would allow John Paxson to make a move with a Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon or Larry Hughes. Maybe that's how he'll address the need for a low-post scorer.
2. Miami Heat: Derrick Rose [PG]
For the last five months or so, every mock draft has picked Beasley and Rose as the top two selections - though not necessarily in that order. Pat Riley apparently thinks that's boring, so he's decided to spice things up by hinting that he's considering O.J. Mayo as Dwyane Wade's new running buddy.
Don't you believe it.
This isn't the NFL, where a team sitting on a high draft pick can trade down and totally rebuild a roster a la the San Diego Chargers turning Eli Manning into several key starters. NBA rosters simply aren't that deep - one great player is far more valuable than three guys that are good-to-very-good.
In a lot of ways, Miami has the ideal position in this draft. They'll get one of the top two players, and they don't have to agonize over which is the better fit.
I think they would have chosen Rose if they'd landed the first overall pick, matching him with Wade to form a back court the rest of the Association would kill for. Rose is a tremendous step up - on offense and defense -- from the long list of "not much of a passer or defender, but he can hit the three" guards that have run the point for Miami since their title run. That would also allow Erik Spoelstra to deploy Shawn Marion at power forward more often - where he's a major mismatch for every four in the East not named "Kevin Garnett."
On the other hand, putting Beasley on the front line with Marion and Udonis Haslem, with a healthy D-Wade and just about anyone running the point will also put Miami back in contention so quickly, ol' Pat Riley might suddenly get his coachin' mojo back in a hurry.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves: O.J. Mayo [SG]
This is where things start to get interesting. The early mock drafts were near-universal in assigning Brook Lopez to the T-Wolves in this spot, saying, "the addition of Lopez will allow Minnesota to play Al Jefferson at the four spot, where he'll be much more comfortable/productive.
The problem with that analysis? Try finding someone who thinks Lopez is the third-best player in this draft.
Besides you, Mrs. Lopez.
The fact of the matter is that outside of Big Al at the 4/5, Minnesota really isn't set at any position, so it only makes sense for Kevin McHale to grab the best talent available. According to most reports, that's the controversial Mayo, who is expected to emerge as a very good scorer and lock-down defender, and who has the ability to handle the point at times.
4. Seattle Supersonics: Jerryd Bayless [PG/SG]
At least the devoted Seattle fans won't be forced to watch Rose or Beasley pack backs for Oklahoma City; watching Kevin Durant tote his luggage cart will be difficult enough. Of course, seeing Bayless emerge as an excellent floor leader in Oklahoma will be little consolation.
Like just about every elite guard in this draft, Bayless is more of a combo than a traditional point, but he's probably farther along in making the transition from gunner to distributor than a Mayo or an Eric Gordon. He's also an excellent shooter with decent (6'3") size, which will give the Sonics some flexibility in how they use him initially - it's not hard to imagine him lining up in the back court with one of Seattle's incumbents to help ease his transition to the pro game.
5. Memphis Grizzlies: Kevin Love [PF/C]
The Grizzlies clearly need some size - they've collected point guards like the Detroit Lions collected wide receivers - and the strategy has worked out about as well. The question is, which of the available bigs is the best fit? DeAndre Jordan might have the greatest upside, but he's considered a project. Brook Lopez might be most ready to contribute right away, but he might be as good as he's going to get. Anthony Randolph has athleticism and speed but lacks strength - in a lot of ways, he's a clone of Hakim Warrick.
That leaves Kevin Love. The knock on Love has been his athleticism - he seemed a bit doughy, even while he was dominating in the paint for UCLA all season. But he's reportedly slimmed down a bit and seems ready to take on the rigors of an 82-game regular season.
Love has tremendous skill, and it's easy to envision him developing into a passing/scoring threat similar to Chris Webber in his best days with the Kings, hitting Mike Miller for an open jumper or Rudy Gay slashing to the hoop.
6. New York Knicks: Anthony Randolph [SF/PF]
One of the biggest criticisms of Mike D'Antoni as new coach of the Knicks:
"His seven-seconds style will never work with that roster."
That's true… but it's also sort of irrelevant. After all, is there any coach - living or deceased - that you can honestly say would be able to make something of New York's ill-considered mess of a rotation?
Of course not.
We're expecting major changes from the Knicks over the next season or two, with this draft pick as one of the first pieces of the puzzle. Ideally, I'm sure general manager Donnie Walsh would prefer to grab his point guard of the future here - and UCLA's Russell Westbrook is a possibility - but for the same "best talent available" reasons we mentioned in giving O.J. Mayo to the T-Wolves, we'll project forward Anthony Randolph as the next Knick. Randolph is a bit slight to play power forward - but with his speed and length he could fit in as a Shawn Marion-style wing, without the three-point range - and possibly move to the four if Walsh moves Zach Randolph or Eddy Curry.
7. Los Angeles Clippers: Danilo Gallinari [SF]
With the Clippers apparently ready to lose Corey Maggette to free agency, and hoping to get Shaun Livingston back after missing all of last season to injury, their biggest area of need would seem to be out on the wing. Gallinari has gotten very high marks for his shooting ability and overall basketball acumen, and should fit in nicely with Elton Brand, Al Thornton and Chris Kaman on LA's front line.
One potential pitfall - Gallinari has reportedly insisted that he'll return to Italy unless he's selected by one of the New York area teams. We're guessing that the notion of playing in Hollywood might be enough to get him to back off that demand.
8. Milwaukee Bucks: Eric Gordon [SG]
The Bucks seem to be in the midst of a course-correction, with new management and a new coach - and more and more rumblings about a new roster. The strength of the team is their young fours and fives - Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva and Yi Jianlian. With this pick, they can start rebuilding the backcourt.
One problem: Milwaukee's best - and best-compensated - player, Michael Redd, plays the same position as Gordon. Two solutions: it wouldn't be terribly surprising to see Redd shopped - aggressively - this summer, as the Bucks seem disenchanted with the idea of paying a top salary for a somewhat one-dimensional player. Or, the Bucks could deploy Redd and Gordon on the floor together - Gordon is more of a slasher/scorer/human pinball, while Redd is an elite jump-shooter. Their games don't necessarily conflict.
Another possibility is Russell Westbrook, whose tenacious defense would immediately make him a favorite of new coach Scott Skiles.
9. Charlotte Bobcats: Brook Lopez [C]
For weeks, I've been wanting to put the ultimate "play the right way" ex-UCLA Bruin, Kevin Love together with the ultimate "play the right way" ex-Bruin coach, Larry Brown. Unfortunately, that particular match made in heaven seems impossible, as Love's draft stock has risen to top-five status.
So, I'll give coach Brown a different heady big man from the Pac-10, Stanford's Brook Lopez. Like Love, Lopez has a polished offensive game. He probably has a better NBA body right now, and a bit of a physical/nasty streak that should serve him well at the next level. He might not ever be a star, but he projects as a long-term quality starter that will allow Charlotte to play Emeka Okafor at power forward and Gerald Wallace at the three. Good luck ever getting an offensive rebound against that frontcourt.
10. New Jersey Nets: DeAndre Jordan [C]
Like the Knicks and Bucks, the Nets are in the process of re-thinking their roster, which means they could go in a lot of different directions here. Unlike just about every other team in the lottery, New Jersey is pretty well set at point guard with the tandem of Devin Harris and Marcus Williams, and they have big money tied up in Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson on the wing - though one or both of them will almost certainly be offered in trades this summer.
That leaves the frontcourt. The Nets have a couple of nice complementary players in bangers Sean Williams and Josh Boone, and they could bring back shooter Nenad Krstic - but none of them really have the potential to develop into a franchise center. DeAndre Jordan - though he's a bit of a project - does. Jordan compares favorably to the Lakers' Andrew Bynum - a player the Nets reportedly coveted and tried to get in one of several potential Jason Kidd trades.
With a little luck, Jordan could develop into the marquee player for the opening of the Nets' new home in Brooklyn - some time in 2025.
11. Indiana Pacers: Russell Westbrook [PG]
The Pacers would love an upgrade at the point - that's no secret. The question is, would they prefer Westbrook or the player that has appeared in this spot in mock drafts for months, Texas guard D.J. Augustin?
Both have their strengths. Westbrook is super-quick, has better size (6'3" vs. 6'0") and projects as an excellent defender. Pacer coach Jim O'Brien loves players who work hrad on defense. On the other hand, Westbrook's jumper isn't a strength, and Augustin is considered an excellent shooter. Jim O'Brien loves that three-point shot.
We're going with Westbrook - whose shot may improve - over Augustin. But the ex-Longhorn won't have long to wait in that green room…
12. Sacramento Kings: D.J. Augustin [PG]
Beno Udrih was a real revelation for Sacramento last season, first filling in when Mike Bibby was injured and then taking over the starting job when Bibby was traded to Atlanta. But Udrih is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and his impressive season could mean lots of lucrative offers will be pouring in. "Best available point guard" is the selection here.
13. Portland Trailblazers: Nicholas Batum [SG]
It seems almost unfair for the Blazers to be drafting this high - after all, they're getting one of the biggest impact newcomers for next season in Greg Oden.
With a roster already loaded with young talent, it wouldn't be a big surprise to see Portland move this pick for one in a future draft. Failing that, it might make sense for the team to draft a "project" or an international player they can stash in the Euroleague for a season or two. We'll guess the latter and give them Batum, a 6'8" do-everything off-guard from France who is probably a year or two away from making a major contribution in the NBA.
14. Golden State Warriors: Joe Alexander [SF]
West Virginia's Joe Alexander has a game just made for Nellieball. He's got the size to post-up smaller players (6'8") and the handle to break down bigger guys off the dribble. He's a good passer and has a solid - if streaky - outside shot. In the hands of a mad scientist like Don Nelson, we can imagine Alexander deployed all over the court, at power forward against some teams, "point forward" other nights, maybe even occasionally at the two.
This has become a selection that I'm actively rooting for, because Alexander as a Warrior would be awfully fun to watch.
Article first appeared on 6/20/08