What an interesting draft this year. The guys with the most upside have huge bust potential and the safest ones have real questions about their chances to become all-star level players. Cleveland and Washington are the most interesting spots in the draft given that they think they have most of their core in place and that this will be their last chance to add a truly elite player before making the playoffs and either getting stuck as a perpetual middle team or breaking through to become an elite contender. So what do you do? Do you swing for the fences since this is your last real chance to add an elite, core player or do you play it safe and add a much needed foundational player. If you believe that it is championship or bust then roll the dice and hope that Len or Noel develop. Alternatively, take Porter and assure yourself a 3-5 seed level team and see what happens. Two years ago, no one thought Indiana was that special and now they are clearly a title contender, maybe you can do the same.
This is a 5 player draft with Noel, Len, Porter, Oladipo & McLemore as the clear cream of the crop. The next group all have great upside but it comes with such glaring red flags that they really are a crapshoot. Will Zeller's t-rex arms keep him from finishing or playing d? Does Olynyk have enough athleticism or strength to survive? Who knows - several will be very good but the miss rate will be high; there's a reason they are late lottery picks in a weak draft. On to the 5 main men as I rank them before looking at team need:
- Victor Oladipo - I love him and started touting him as the #1 pick early last season. Given the impressive improvement he showed throughout his time at IU, I have no doubt that he'll work his ass off and maximize his potential and with his athleticism, he can definitely become a perennial all-star. The knocks on him are his size, 6'4", his questionable jumper and spotty handle which make him inefficient as a creator. All valid concerns but he has very long arms and his shot improved dramatically from his soph to jr seasons. If he were 6'6" or 6'7" so he could play the 2 or the 3, he'd be the best wing prospect in at least the last 3-5 years. He'll be a top 10 sg by the end of his rookie year and very quickly break into the top 5. What I think I like most about him is that he'll guard anyone and impacts the game in so many different ways without having to take a lot of shots.
- Otto Porter - Fits perfectly for the new slash and kick NBA with lots of wings and shooters but few true bigs. He's a taller, better shooting but less athletic Kawhi Leonard. He really should be able to be a Luol Deng level sf who does everything really well and is a very solid contributor but isn't quite a star. Some question whether his improved shooting this year was a mirage, but the only real concern with him is whether is athleticism is good enough. If not, he may peak as a Battier/Prince level player which is clearly valuable but not the foundational piece that teams are looking for in the top 3.
- Alex Len - Have to assume that the injury is not a long-term concern to have him this high. I've watched probably 40 games of his and still have no idea how good he is. He has great length, athleticism, shooting, rim protection and was dominant every time he matched up against an NBA level big. He also disappeared against mediocre talent and was completely neutralized by smaller defenders which makes you question his motor/tenacity. His floor should be a 3rd big who can protect the rim and space the floor with his shooting. His ceiling is Brook Lopez but with D and rebounding. I think bad guard play and the more physical, clogged lane in college hurt him at Maryland and he'll be a really good NBA player. He's this far down due to the scary history of foot injuries with big men and the fact that it will definitely take him a year or two before he's ready to contribute meaningfully.
- Ben McLemore - His stroke lets people compare him favorably to Ray Allen without getting laughed out of the room. However, he frequently disappeared for KU and rarely looked to dominate. If someone is going to be a star as a jump shooter, they have to be willing to take 15+ shots a game and expect the last to go in even if they've missed the first 14 and I just don't see that in him. I don't see him ever being a player who can create his own shot - simply a floor spacer or run of off screens guy. His shooting, size & athleticism give him a pretty high floor but his passiveness limits his ceiling.
- Nerlens Noel - Another big with injury risk. I see him as a rich-man's Taj Gibson, great D but a better shot blocker and more offensive potential. From what I saw of him at UK, I don't think the offensive is going to develop. He just didn't seem to have a good feel for the game. He reminded me a lot of Dwight Howard on O (which is not a compliment). He only scores off of his athleticism, the NBA isn't exactly lacking in elite athletes and he's coming off an ACL tear. Somewhat similar players like Tyson Chandler have never been able to develop a reliable offensive game. You have to be a pretty special to be an elite player when you can only contribute on one end of the court, especially when there are few if any dominant centers that other teams run their offense through to match up against.
With that wrap up on the quandary the top teams face and descriptions of the top players, who should the teams pick?
1. CLE - they need bigs and wings. Waiters plays the same position as Oladipo & McLemore so it would be hard to pick them. Porter would fill a glaring need at sf & Noel/Len would have time to develop behind Varejao/Thomspon and then replace Varejao when he gets injured again. Having recently been a regular in the conf finals with Lebron, I think they should take a title or bust approach. Just making the playoffs aren't going to get them to forget the Decision. They should take Alex Len assuming his injury checks out with the docs.
2. ORL - they are in full rebuild mode and need basically everything. Afflalo, Big Baby, Harkless, Harris, Nicholson & Vucevic are interesting but most project as role player types, not top 2 players. A pg would be nice, but this is too high for Burke. They should either trade down to get a pg if a good deal is available or just take the best player, Victor Oladipo.
3. WAS - set at 1 & 2 but need everything else. It's really tempting to take Noel since athletic bigs are very unlikely to fall outside the lottery where they expect to be picking in the future. Even assuming the knee is fine, I just don't trust his offensive game to develop enough to justify taking him and also don't want to wait on him to develop. This franchise has been in the toilet forever and just getting to the middle of the pack in the East playoff race would be great. Take Otto Porter, quickly become a 4/5 seed and hope that one of your big 3 develops even more than expected, that one of the other talented but terrible players on the roster finally get it (Vesely, Seraphin, Singleton etc.), or that you strike gold in the middle of a future draft to make the leap to true title contender. Really tough choice if Len is also on the board, but I'd take the big man since it's hard to win a title without a really quality big and while Noel and Len are both risky, I think Len is more likely to deliver.
4. CHA - They want to continue to be bad for a few more years to collect more lottery tickets since there is very little of value on the roster. Take Nerlens Noel, hope he can form a defensive wall with Biyombo and enjoy the better Wiggins odds that an injured, development prospect provides.
5. PHX - Ben McLemore. They are in a position to take bpa and while Bennett is interesting, he's nowhere near the prospect McLemore is; Los Suns are thrilled with this pick. Bennett has no position and doesn't play D; his upside is Antawn Jamison - 20ppg on a shitty team or a 6th man on a good team.
Among the later picks that I think he'll be hits:
- Shane Larkin - Great in the pick & roll and will be a great backup pg with the chance to be a mid-level starter. Would be a great fit on Indy to back up George Hill and sometimes play alongside him if he slips past Utah.
- Alan Crabbe/Reggie Bullock /Tony Snell/Glen Rice Jr - should all fit the D/3's/athleticism wing that is all the rage in the league. Bullock and Snell fit this specific role the best but Crabbe has more potential to create offense. Rice has character questions and so should be the last of these 4 off the board but assuming he stays out of trouble, he'll be well worth the wait. Chicago, Indy, Clippers, Spurs & OKC should all look long and hard at these guys as they could be key rotation players right away for these contenders. I don't think you can ever have too many wings in today's league, so I also like Franklin & Ennis. Franklin is great on D but needs a better shot.
- Erik Murphy/Kenny Kadji/Ryan Kelly - are all interesting options at the stretch 4. Murphy is the only one likely to be drafted but I'd definitely take Kadji in the 2nd round. He has the size to protect the rim and punish a team in the post if they try to hide a Draymond Green type against him. The Heat should really give him a look since he could help their rebounding but still keep the floor spaced. Kelly has severe questions about his athleticism but his shooting, rebounding and passing make him very worth a look in summer league and camp to see how limited he really is athletically.
BTW how unfair is it that the draft is a week after the finals end? Granted the draft isn't as important to these teams as the rest but come on. Even if your organization is siloed enough to focus on both, getting to the Finals is such an accomplishment that the whole organization should be able to focus on it and enjoy the payoff from their hard work.