After my rousing success predicting last year’s draft (I got as many picks slotted correctly in the top 2 as I did in the remainder of the draft, to give you an idea), I’m determined to redeem myself. This is my best guess as to what goes down Thursday night, barring the inevitable trade activity that will doubtlessly destroy my draft board. This isn't necessarily what I hope will happen; I'm rooting (irrationally) for Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter, and Chris Singleton like a lot of you. I did, however, make Donatas Motiejunas slip a spot in the name of wishful thinking.
1. Cleveland: Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke
Irving is an ultra-efficient scorer both from range and the foul line in addition to being a capable distributor. It’s a feat to establish yourself as the consensus first overall pick with only 12 college games under your belt, but Irving looks to be one of the few prospects in this draft that comes with an almost certain chance of NBA success, and I don’t believe the Cavaliers’ public uncertainty about this pick will dissuade them from coming to the same conclusion.
2. Minnesota: Derrick Williams, PF, Arizona
Speaking of efficient scorers, Williams put up a remarkable scoring performance this college season, scoring effectively in a wide range of offensive situations from 17-foot iso sets to pick-and-rolls to transition dunks. (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/luke_winn/06/08/nba.draft.williams.jenkins/index.html provides a good analysis of the relevant stats, and plugs underrated Charles Jenkins) Williams is a bit undersized for the power forward position that many coaches would have him play, and his defensive abilities are nowhere near as established as his offensive capabilities, but Williams’ scoring sets him apart from the rest of his year’s draft, and Minnesota will be obligated to take him if he’s on the board, even with Kevin Love and Michael Beasley at power forward already.
3. Utah: Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky
Rumors of Utah’s high regard for Knight have been percolating in cyberspace for more than a month now, and although center prospects Jonas Valanciunas and Enes Kanter would be tempting picks, I think Utah will take the intelligent and still-young (18!) Knight to succeed Devin Harris at point.
4. Cleveland: Enes Kanter, C, Kentucky
This is a difficult call, since Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas has great size and a banger’s mentality at the center position, but Kanter’s ability to score and rebound inside would add an immediate physical presence to Cleveland’s front line that Valanciunas’s as-of-now skinny frame and contract issues would not. Reports that Kanter has been impressive in private workouts with the Cavaliers makes this pick look even better.
5. Toronto: Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania)
With role-player Amir Johnson holding the starting spot inside for the Raptors, Toronto will happily take either Kanter or Valanciunas if either is available. Valanciunas’s buyout issues with his Euroleague team might be a little thorny, but with an NBA lockout looming, Toronto can afford to wait a season before bringing Valanciunas from overseas. His height and impressive wingspan won’t suffer from the wait, and he can gain more valuable experience playing at a high level in Europe.
6. Washington: Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State
Leonard made an impression in a private workout with the Wizards, and his strong work ethic and high energy level would make him a solid rotation player and a good contribution to the Wizards’ team culture. I’m conflicted on this pick for the Wizards, since undersized power forward Trevor Booker already brings energy, rebounding, and tenacious defense (and poor jumpshooting) for a more modest salary. The key to Leonard’s future effectiveness is whether he can establish his jumpshot as a reliable scoring tool. If Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards’ front office believes he can, they’ll give him a chance to do so in red, white, and blue.
7. Sacramento: Jan Vesely, SF, KK Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)
In the last few weeks, rumors have been springing up that the Maloof brothers are in love with BYU sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette, and a few respectable mock drafts (DraftExpress, for one) have him going to the Kings at number seven. Far be it from me to question the experts’ wisdom, but regardless of the rumor’s feasibility (and it would give a good marketing boost to a team that sorely needs community support), I can’t in good conscience slot Jimmer here. Czech Jan Vesely is an extremely athletic, 6’10 small forward with a few years of high-level competition in the Euroleague under his belt, and despite the questions surrounding his defense and jumpshooting, he is a wiser choice for the Kings here.
8. Detroit: Kemba Walker, PG, UConn
It may seem like a bit of a drop for the brash New Yorker, and Detroit would certainly welcome his scoring and winning mentality on a team that was in various states of collapse throughout the season. Walker could serve as a leader as Detroit makes the inevitable transition from a team led by aging, overpaid veterans to the next generation of Pistons.
9. Charlotte: Marcus Morris, PF, Kansas
Charlotte is desperate for scoring and rebounding, and Marcus Morris can help with both. An energetic and athletic player, Morris may not become an all-star, but he will certainly be valuable to the Bobcats as they struggle to establish their team identity.
10. Milwaukee: Klay Thompson, SF/SG, Washington State
Thompson is a knockdown shooter, something Milwaukee sorely needs, given their scoring struggles over the last few seasons. Thompson can space the floor for Andrew Bogut and give the Bucks an offensive option better than Corey Maggette and Earl Boykins combined.
11. Golden State: Bismack Biyombo, C/PF, Baloncesto Fuenlabrada (Spain)
Golden State has been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA for a number of years now, due in no small part to the coaching style of former head coach Don Nelson. Congolese big man Biyombo’s defensive potential is nearly boundless, and Golden State can certainly cover for his complete lack of offensive skills.
12. Utah: Chris Singleton, SF, Florida State
Singleton is the best defender in this year’s draft, and has advanced quite a bit on draft boards over the last month. Singleton has trouble finishing at the rim and cannot run a transition offense to save his life, but his skill as a perimeter defender and potential to develop a reliable shooting stroke make him a great pick here.
13. Phoenix: Jimmer Fredette, PG, BYU
New Suns GM Lon Babby has talked about improving the Suns’ beleaguered defense, but adding a shooter of Jimmer’s skill would be an opportunity tough to pass up, especially considering that Steve Nash is getting up there in years. Jimmer’s invitation to the green room makes me think that he’s likely to go somewhere in the top half of the first round, and if Sacramento doesn’t reach for him at #7, he’ll probably be picked somewhere between here and New York at #17
14. Houston: Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas
Thompson is raw, but he has shown flashes of a strong offensive game, already proving himself as a capable cutter off the ball. This is a good spot in the draft for Thompson to be taken- high enough that the Rockets will build him into their team plans, but low enough not to have the pressure to develop immediately.
15. Indiana: Marshon Brooks, SG, Providence
While the Kobe comparisons might be a bit of a reach, Marshon Brooks is a true scorer. Word has it that in his private workout in Indiana, he performed so well that Larry Bird couldn’t contain his satisfaction. Sounds like a lock to me.
16. Philadelphia: Markieff Morris, PF, Kansas
The twin brother of Marcus Morris, the Philadelphia-area native can provide good rebounding, defense, and occasional scoring to the Sixers as they try to advance into the next tier of playoff contenders. Morris is the type of player who will not completely change the fortunes of a team, but will emerge as a solid contributor, which, while Andre Iguodala remains in Philadelphia, is what the Sixers are looking for.
17. New York: Alec Burks, SG, Colorado
Burks is excellent at creating his own shot, and is more talented than his draft position here would indicate. New York should probably be looking to improve its dismal defense, but Burks is a good enough value to justify taking him here.
18. Washington: Jordan Hamilton, SF, Texas
I’m hoping and praying that Lithuanian string bean Donatas Motiejunas doesn’t end up being the pick here, since the Wizards are looking to become more physical and Motiejunas, despite his height, is oriented towards finesse and the perimeter. Jordan Hamilton certainly won’t improve the Wizards’ defense, but his rangy shooting abilities can be lethal off of John Wall drive-and-kicks. Do-everything player Tobias Harris would be a better fit for the Wizards’ new identity, but I doubt the Wizards’ front office can resist Hamilton’s offensive capabilities.
19. Charlotte: Donatas Motiejunas, PF, Benetton Treviso (Italy)
Even though Motiejunas has woeful strength and a questionable attitude on the court, he has a great skill level and has been a solid outside shooter in his career for Benetton Treviso in the Euroleague. Motiejunas was projected to be drafted in the top ten about four months ago, so drafting him at this spot could prove to be a great value for Michael Jordan and the Bobcats.
20. Minnesota: Tobias Harris, SF/PF, Tennessee
Harris’s rep is as a versatile player who is good at almost everything, but great at nothing. Players like that can stick in the league for a while as valuable contributors, and this range in the draft is the perfect place to pick them up. Minnesota has publically stated that they are looking to add veteran help, and if they are unable to trade either of their first-round picks for established players, Harris is a good choice. I could see Kyle Singler here, too.
21. Portland: Kenneth Faried, PF, Morehead State
Portland’s known for having defensively oriented teams, and Faried can add defense and elite-level rebounding to the Blazers’ roster. Rumor has it that had Faried come out last year, Portland would have given him a long look, so I can’t imagine they won’t jump on the opportunity to pick him up this year.
22. Denver: Charles Jenkins, PG/SG, Hofstra
Jenkins is an unbelievably efficient scorer, and he had a great deal of success with Hofstra, but he is still being overlooked by a lot of teams. I could see Jenkins becoming a very good player with the Nuggets, a team that could use some additional scoring options following Carmelo Anthony’s trade to New York.
23. Houston: Nikola Vucevic, C, USC
With Yao Ming’s health always in question, Houston is in sore need of some center depth, and there won’t be many center prospects worth taking with Houston’s 14th pick. Vucevic is big and physical, and despite lacking great mobility, can at least provide some quality minutes spelling Chuck Hayes.
24. Oklahoma City: Kyle Singler, SF/PF, Duke
A lot of smart people have the Thunder taking Singler with this pick, and I’m not about to argue with them. Singler, a smart, experienced player, can become a cog in the Thunder offense immediately, and that’s what the Thunder needs as the team tries to become a true championship contender.
25. Boston: Tyler Honeycutt, SF, UCLA
Boston is a very old team, and needs quality youth to put on the court alongside Rajon Rondo when their cadre of grizzled veterans can no longer contribute at a high level. Tyler Honeycutt has intriguing physical tools and a developing shooting stroke, both qualities that could make Honeycutt a good piece in the Celtics’ future.
26. Dallas: Iman Shumpert, SG/PG, Georgia Tech
Shumpert is a very good perimeter defender who is better used off the ball, where he can spot up or drive to the hoop. Shumpert can be groomed to replace aging DeShawn Stevenson at shooting guard, and will likely become a better defender than Stevenson is.
27. New Jersey: Darius Morris, PG, Michigan
Morris racked up the assists with the Wolverines last season, and with his great size, he could continue to be a solid playmaker at the next level. Morris would be excellent as a backup behind Deron Williams, and has the upside to serve as Williams’ eventual replacement should he opt not to sign an extension with the Nets.
28. Chicago: Davis Bertans, SF, Union Olimpija Ljubljana (Slovenia)
Latvian forward Davis Bertans has a nice stroke and excellent athleticism, both qualities that Bertans uses to put on fantastic workouts, such as his most recent workout at last week’s EuroCamp in Treviso. However, Bertans has not consistently funneled his workout success into his gametime performances, which has caused his draft stock to suffer. Regardless, Bertans has great potential to be an impact player in the NBA, and regardless of whether Chicago keeps this pick, Bertans will be selected somewhere near the bottom of the first round.
29. San Antonio: Jeremy Tyler, C, Tokyo Apache (Japan)
Once a blue-chip recruit, Tyler skipped his senior year of high school to play basketball overseas for the respected Israeli squad Maccabi Tel Aviv. His time in Israel was a complete failure, and Tyler was forced to move to Japan, where he has had a bit more success, but is playing against inferior competition. Regardless of the questions of maturity that surround Tyler, his physical attributes are off the charts, and his upside is almost as big as his risk of being a bust. A strong program like San Antonio can afford to take a chance on a prospect like Tyler, and if Gregg Popovich can’t mold Tyler into a functional NBA player, it’s likely that no one can.
30. Chicago: Justin Harper, PF, Richmond
I really don’t think Chicago will keep both of their picks near the bottom of the first round, so if a team covets a certain player or wants to add more youth, Chicago will field offers for either pick. Talent-wise, Justin Harper is a good selection here, as his excellent perimeter scoring ability pairs with his size to make him a difficult matchup for opposing defenses. His team’s surprise NCAA tournament run has not hurt his draft stock, either.<!--EndFragment-->