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Friday, June 29, 2007

First Impressions of the 2007 NBA Draft, Soon to be Renamed the "Paul Allen Buys Every Draft Pick Show"

In case anyone doubted it, Portland Trail Blazers' owner Paul Allen showed on Thursday night that it is nice to be wealthy (and to be lucky enough to have the Draft Lottery ping pong balls bounce your way). Everyone knew that Portland was going to pick prize franchise center Greg Oden with the first overall selection but Allen and his front office staff did not stop there. Portland also bought two additional draft picks--perhaps costing $3 million each, according to ESPN's Ric Bucher--and traded leading scorer Zach Randolph, Dan Dickau and Fred Jones to the New York Knicks for Steve Francis and Channing Frye. Allen will likely foot the bill (in the neighborhood of $34 million) to buy out Francis' contract. In other words, Allen spent more money in one night than some owners spend all season--and Bucher reported that draft night is Allen's favorite time of the year. This is not the first time that Allen has obtained draft picks by spending cold hard cash. The end result of Allen's wheeling and dealing is that Portland acquired Greg Oden, Josh McRoberts, Taurean Green, Petteri Koponen, Rudy Fernandez, Demetris Nichols, Frye and Francis while getting rid of Randolph, Dickau and Jones.

The Seattle Supersonics also made significant changes to their roster. Taking Kevin Durant with the second overall pick was a no-brainer but Seattle also shipped All-Star Ray Allen and 35th pick Glen Davis to the Boston Celtics for fifth overall pick Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West. Seattle also received a future second round pick in the deal. Finally, the Sonics took Carl Landry with the first pick of the second round (31st overall). Seattle is stocked with a lot of young talent now and it will be interesting to see how well--and how quickly--the new mix blends together.

Nothing lends itself more to overanalysis and wild hyperbole than the draft (any draft, not just the NBA's). None of the draft picks has played one second of basketball at the NBA level, let alone 82 regular season games over a period of many months, so the dramatic, overblown statements and projections that are offered up by "experts" are just that: dramatic and overblown. Obviously, we all have seen more than enough to understand that Greg Oden seems to have a great opportunity to become a franchise center and that Kevin Durant may become a big time scorer in the NBA but nobody really knows how either player will respond--mentally, physically and emotionally--to NBA level competition and that goes double for the lesser renowned players in the draft. Logically, it would make more sense to evaluate this draft in about three or four years, so this post should really be about the LeBron-Melo-Wade-Bosh (and Darko) draft, not the draft that just took place. It actually is more interesting at times to comment on the commentators, so to speak. Without further ado, here are some things that caught my eye (or ear) during ESPN's Thursday night draft extravaganza, which seemed to last longer than the recently concluded NBA Finals (and sadly, may have had more viewers):

1) Jay Bilas has more than once referred to Oden as the best center prospect since Patrick Ewing. Last I looked, Shaquille O'Neal entered the NBA after Ewing and won four more rings than the Hoya Destroya did. Maybe Bilas is trying to say something about which centers generated the most buzz prior to being drafted but, any way you slice it, O'Neal has to be considered a bigger prospect than Ewing was--O'Neal was literally bigger, he had bigger college statistics, he produced bigger statistics as a rookie, he generated more endorsement deals and he won more titles. David Robinson was a pretty big center prospect who came into the league after Ewing, also. Oden's game is similar to the young Ewing's--great paint presence and shotblocking, somewhat mechanical offense--but Ewing is most assuredly not the best center or best center prospect to come into the NBA in the past two decades.

2) Atlanta drafted a forward with its first pick for the 23rd year in a row (that might be a slight exaggeration...), taking Al Horford with the third overall selection. Stephen A. Smith opined that the Hawks should have taken a point guard (he never said which one) and Mark Jackson said simply that the Horford pick is a "bad decision" based on Atlanta's needs and the personnel that they already have (namely, a roster stacked with forwards). The Hawks did take Acie Law with the 11th pick, so they at least attempted to solve their point guard problem but I suspect that in a few years they will rue not drafting Mike Conley instead of Horford.

3) Conley instead went to Memphis as the fourth selection, which Bilas termed a "great pick," adding that Conley is the best point guard in the draft in his opinion. He then said that if Conley had been in the draft at the same time as Chris Paul and Deron Williams that it would be a tough decision who to take although he does not mean to say that he would actually take Conley over Paul or Williams. Could you be a little more indecisive, please? In any case, as Charles Barkley might put it, let's not get plumb-damn goofy--Conley is going to be very good but he is going to have to improve his shot to be in the same category as Paul and Williams, each of whom is also both bigger and stronger than Conley.

4) Not only have most writers and fans never seen Yi Jianlian play against top competition (other than a game against Team USA last year), apparently Milwaukee's General Manager Larry Harris has not seen him play, either; if you believe ESPN's account, he chose Yi based on a recommendation by his father, Del, the longtime NBA head coach (and current Dallas assistant) who coached Yi on the Chinese national team. Larry Harris either disregarded or does not believe ESPN's earlier reports that Yi has no intention of setting foot in Milwaukee, let alone playing for the Bucks. Hey, that kind of stubbornness worked for John Elway with the Baltimore Colts, so maybe it will work for Yi. I have no idea whether Yi will play in Milwaukee or how good he will eventually become but that seemingly puts me right on par with what Larry Harris knows, so if the Bucks get rid of Harris maybe they'll hire me as GM. If so, I hereby promise not to use the sixth overall pick on anyone who flat out states that he won't play for my team.

5) Charlotte took Brandan Wright with the eighth overall pick and Bilas immediately called this a "steal," saying that he had Wright as the fourth best player in the draft. That means Michael Jordan must be getting the hang of the whole drafting process, right? Uh, no. Jordan soon traded Wright to Golden State for Jason Richardson and the rights to Jermareo Davidson. When word of this transaction first came down, Smith reacted in his usual calm manner, declaring, "That would be stupid" and looking like his head was about to explode. He later added that the deal was "highway robbery," explaining that Richardson has a huge contract commensurate with being a franchise level player but that, although Richardson is a good player, he does not perform well enough to be worth that much money.

6) The NCAA Championship Game between Florida and Ohio State produced eight draft picks. Three Florida players went in the first nine picks overall (Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah), which has never happened before. In addition to Oden and Conley, Ohio State's Daequan Cook went in the first round, which must be a surprise to Cook's local paper, the Dayton Daily News, which asserted prior to the draft that scouts "question everything about him, including his ability to understand the game." That's funny, because the NBA personnel people I spoke with prior to the draft said that Cook is a great shooter and a first round talent. Cook is young and has room to grow but that is true of almost everyone in the draft--even the two top picks. Of course, DDN also declared that "stat-stuffer" is a negative term, which is news to those of us who use the phrase to mean someone who produces well in numerous categories. I'm going to go out on a limb, but I suspect that Pat Riley and the Miami Heat, who acquired Cook in a swap of first round picks with Philadelphia, don't rely on DDN for information about the NBA.

Here are a few more odds and ends:

Most surprising move:

The Knicks not only successfully getting rid of Francis and his albatross of a contract but actually getting an All-Star level player in return, even if Randolph may very well break "Pac Man" Jones' unofficial record for after hours forays now that he is based in New York.

Least surprising move:

The Spurs used two of their three draft picks on overseas players.

Quote of the night:

"I didn't get enough air time." After Dick Vitale said this, he threw a bunch of papers in the air, saying those were all the notes regarding things he had planned to talk about. He may have been joking or he may have really been perturbed; ESPN panned back to host Mike Tirico before that became clear.

Double cheap shot of the night:

"He's a weight loser but he hasn't been able to keep it off. Sort of like Oprah in that regard." Jay Bilas, simultaneously dissing Glen Davis and Oprah Winfrey. At least he didn't say that Winfrey has a better jumper than Davis...

Most interesting scouting report:

Fran Fraschilla, ESPN's guru regarding players from overseas, said of one prospect that he is 6-9 and can dunk. I hope that he can dunk if he is 6-9. Hell, I'd be able to dunk (well, barely, but I'd be able to) if I were 6-9. Fraschilla is great and he knows his stuff but nothing beats the old days, when Hubie Brown was on TNT and some team would draft an overseas player; TNT would roll out this grainy,out of focus black and white footage that might have been of a basketball game and might have just been 10 guys running around, and Brown would instantly rattle off, in great detail, the strengths and weaknesses of the player in question.


In the interest of full disclosure, here are my posts about the 2006 NBA Draft and the 2005 NBA Draft. For someone who is not a "draft geek" I think that I did a decent job of analyzing those two drafts: in 2005, I lauded Utah's selection of Deron Williams, panned the Clippers' choice of Yaroslav Korolev and wondered why the Lakers--with a coach like Phil Jackson who does not generally give heavy minutes to young players--drafted Andrew Bynum. I liked Boston's pick of Gerald Green who, while he has not exactly lit up the league yet, may still turn out to be a very good player. On the flipside, Charlie Villanueva turned out to be better than I expected--but I also said that he was not a great fit for Toronto and apparently the Raptors felt that way, too, trading him to Milwaukee after his rookie season. In 2006, I liked Toronto's selection of Andrea Bargnani and correctly predicted that he would do well in his rookie season. I also was right that J.J. Redick would have little impact and scoffed at Jay Bilas' assertion that Redick could come right in and start alongside Jameer Nelson. I questioned why Stephen A. Smith was so critical of Portland's moves--something that Smith himself questioned (a year late) at the conclusion of ESPN's 2007 Draft Show, though he muttered something about liking the players that they got in 2006 but not the moves that they made. Huh? Of course, Brandon Roy became the Rookie of the Year and LaMarcus Aldridge played well before being sidelined by injury, so "Screaming A's" 2006 protestations were incorrect; I also wondered why, if Smith felt so strongly, that he did not question Portland's Steve Patterson directly when Patterson was interviewed on ESPN (in 2006). If you are going to blast a guy's decisions, then have the guts/decency to say it to his face and hear his response.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:08 AM



At Friday, June 29, 2007 10:19:00 AM, Blogger J David said...

Thank you for pointing out the "center" issue. Ewing isn't even close to the best center in the past 20 years. You hit the nail on the head; Robinson was phenomenal and Shaq is... well, by my estimation, the best center ever (highly debatable, and I am quite biased).

But if you are talking about draft hype, let's not forget Yao Ming! My God, I am not big on him, but he has been continuously hyped since he was first discovered. He is too much of a static player for my taste, but some people out there love him (i think 500 million Chinese people are still cheering for him; stupid satellite delay...)

My Blog: Miami Heat Wired

At Friday, June 29, 2007 2:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous 2

jay bilas dont know much about basketball it seems he contradicts himself to much. i think portland a 42 win team greg oden, brandon roy, steve francis, lamarcus aldridge, channing frye pretty good bench too there going to be good

seattle got durant, wally scerbiak, jeff green, rashard lewis, delonte west 40 wins outside right there for the playoffs im telling you.

new york 47 wins zach randolph 24 and 10 with curry 19 and 7 crawford great player of course marbury and now lee could start at the 3 for them im going out on a limb but if they could have the right chemistry there going to be good.

boston jefferson, ray allen paul pierce rondo perkins, ill say 45 wins they will be good next year as well allen compliments pierce jefferson break out year theyll be good.

lakers, something tells me the lakers will be good next year even with this roster. they was on pace for 54 wins halfway through the season ill say 57 wins for the lakers kobe will have the best season of his career and conference finals maybe ring. remember when allen iverson almost got traded in 2000 the next year he was motivated and got the team to the finals with a worst roster than the lakers have now. charles barkley 93 he got traded from philly he was motivated carried the team to the finals. I think kobe does the same thing or hell get them close thats just my thoughts though.

At Sunday, July 01, 2007 12:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous 2

another opion on the draft is basically after pick 9 it was weak i mean i never heard of any of those other players after noah. it looks like garnett will get traded somewhere i dont know where still boston out the lakers is out, where will he go is the question too me lol. why arent the lakers tradeing for jermanine o neal kobe hopefully wants to play with him. im thinking he does i havent heard anything lamar is not the answer and bynum might be good you put oneal there get one more complimentary player theyll win the ring.

At Sunday, July 01, 2007 3:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

If you look at most drafts after pick nine you will see a lot of names that you may not have heard much about prior to that time; many of those players later have very good NBA careers (Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, for example). It's almost certain that somebody taken late in the first round or early in the second round will be an All-Star someday; of course, if we (meaning commentators, NBA personnel guys and anybody else) knew for sure who that guy is, he wouldn't have lasted that long in the draft...

KG is almost certainly headed out of Minn. Jermaine O'Neal is an upgrade over Odom but not necessarily enough of one to make Kobe want to stick around. O'Neal also gets hurt a lot, so those two factors are probably why the Lakers are hesitating. Think about it: O'Neal is clearly on the market and it's not like teams are beating down the Pacers' door to get him. That tells you something.

As for your earlier comment, 42 wins sounds about right for Portland--lots of talent and a bright future, but young players have growing pains and need a season or two to learn about the league (and each other). When Cleveland had Daugherty-Price-Harper in the mid-80s they needed a season together before they started being a 50 win type team.

N.Y. certainly has the talent to win 47 games but I will be interested to see the on court chemistry between Curry and Randolph, who both like to play on the block. Randolph has also had a myriad of off-court issues, so a move to N.Y. may not be great for him in that regard.

If Pierce and Allen both stay healthy I agree that 45 wins could be within reach.

I can't say that I see 54 or 57 wins for the Lakers. Kobe insists that he wants out and the team has done nothing to improve itself (other than the likely addition by subtraction of getting rid of Smush). If the Lakers keep Kobe and if everyone stays healthy and if everything goes right then the Lakers could win 50, tops.


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