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Friday, June 27, 2008

First Impressions of the 2008 NBA Draft

I am not a big "draftnik"--I much prefer to watch and analyze the players who are already in the NBA--but this year I filled out a mock draft at Yardbarker. Frankly, for someone who does not obsess over the draft I think that I did pretty well, particularly in comparison to some people who spend so much more time researching this subject than I do. I got six of the first eight picks exactly correct and I transposed picks four and seven; I correctly identified nine of the 10 players who would be top 10 selections. In comparison, USA TODAY's Chris Colston only got four of the first eight picks exactly correct, ESPN's Chad Ford got six of the first eight picks exactly correct and Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress got the first eight picks exactly correct. Colston, Ford and Givony each matched my feat of correctly identifying nine of the top ten players. I missed out on ninth pick D.J. Augustin, as did Ford and Givony, while Colston left out sixth pick Danilo Gallinari.

I can't speak for the other guys, but I made my choices based on what I expected the teams to do, not necessarily who I think the ten best players are. I only saw Mayo a few times, so maybe I caught him on bad nights or maybe he will improve a lot but I think that he is overrated; he has the requisite skill set to have a solid NBA career, but I don't get what all of the fuss is about and I certainly cannot comprehend why he was ever compared to LeBron James, who is several inches taller, at least 40 pounds heavier and just a much better player. Minnesota took Mayo with the third overall selection but will apparently ship him to Memphis along with several veterans (i.e., dead weight contracts) in exchange for several players, most notably Kevin Love and Mike Miller. Kevin McHale has been much criticized--and for good reason--but turning Mayo and some bad contracts into a solid big man and an excellent three point shooter looks like a good deal.

Everyone understood that Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley would be the top two picks; I think that all of the last minute stuff about Miami supposedly souring on Beasley was just a smokescreen from the Heat to see what kind of offers they might receive for the second pick. Rose looks like the right choice considering that Chicago needs a point guard and that the rules changes over the past few years have placed a premium on having players who can attack off of the dribble. I like Beasley's game and I think that he is much more NBA ready at this point than Kevin Durant was last year. Beasley may not average as many points as Durant did--he will have to share the ball with Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion--but he will surely shoot a much better field goal percentage, grab more rebounds and have more of an impact on winning; Durant was just firing off shots left and right on a horrible team until the latter part of the season when his shot selection and field goal percentage improved.

ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy called Beasley a "Hall of Fame" talent. I respect Van Gundy a lot but I just can't go that far about a guy who has not played one minute yet in the NBA. Beasley is very talented but only the elite of the elite make it to the Hall of Fame, guys who deliver year after year. Jay Bilas said that Beasley has "great presence in traffic. This guy can operate in a crowd." I agree completely with that assessment and those two qualities are why I expect Beasley to be more efficient and effective than Durant has been so far.

Seattle's choice of Russell Westbrook with the number four pick surprised most people other than Givony; I had Westbrook going to the Clippers in the seventh spot and Seattle taking Gordon, flipping what actually transpired. I like Gordon's scoring ability, but going to the Clippers is like being sucked in by a black hole: we may never see Gordon again in this universe, let alone find out what he could have done with a different team. As for Seattle, Van Gundy said that the Sonics now face a "critical decision" regarding which positions Durant and Westbrook will play. Durant played shooting guard last year. Will Westbrook take over that spot, moving Durant to small forward, or will Westbrook play point guard? I'm not sure what Westbrook's best position is but I never agreed with putting Durant in the backcourt; he needs to bulk up a bit, toughen up on the boards and play small forward, because he does not belong on the outside chasing 6-5 shooting guards around screens.

Fran Fraschilla is ESPN's resident expert on international players. Most of his analysis sounded plausible, although it largely came from the same template: the foreign players who got drafted tend to be very young, under contract overseas and not quite ready to play in the NBA. Fraschilla offered a bit of unintentional comedy when he said that Alexis Ajinca was "unstoppable" in one on zero workouts. Hey, Fraschilla should check me out: I look like J.J. Redick at Duke in one on zero workouts, but there is a reason that Redick is riding the bench in Orlando and I am writing about other people being drafted instead of finishing out my last days as an NBA player, like my contemporaries Grant Hill and Shaquille O'Neal--in the NBA you have to be able to play one on one in the context of a five on five game, so "one on zero" skills have limited value.

The reason that I did not have Augustin in my top ten is that I expected teams to be wary of a guy who measured out at less than six feet tall. Yes, there have been some very nice players at that size but they are special guys, few and far between. Maybe Augustin will be one of them--the rules changing favoring perimeter players will help him of course--but I have my doubts. After Charlotte took Augustin with the ninth pick, the Nets chose Brook Lopez, prompting Bilas to declare, "New Jersey got an absolute steal. They ought to wear a mask for this one." I agree with Bilas; I had Charlotte taking Lopez as a nice complement to Emeka Okafor and unless Augustin turns out to be a very dynamic player I think that the Bobcats are going to really regret this.

Between the draft and some recent trades, the Nets added Lopez, Chris Douglas-Roberts (who claims to have never lost a one on one game in his life, a more useful--if harder to verify--trait than Ajinca's one on zero prowess), Ryan Anderson, Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons. Mark Jackson said that New Jersey has made a "tremendous upgrade." Van Gundy liked Milwaukee's moves, which include acquiring Richard Jefferson from New Jersey plus drafting Joe Alexander and Luc Mbah a Moute. Bilas praised the Heat, who added Beasley, Mario Chalmers and Darnell Jackson. Of course, the reality is that it is far too early to know who the real winners and losers are but I think that Jackson, Van Gundy and Bilas' choices are reasonable based on what we currently know about the players in question.

The best thing about ESPN's draft coverage this year is that Stephen A. Smith no longer sat at the main table spitting out overblown "analysis." ESPN relegated him to asking pro forma questions of players after they were drafted and the Worldwide Leader apparently put a strict clock on Smith's segments to make sure that he did not wander too far astray; at one point he said that he wanted to ask another question but that he was being directed to cut his interview short and toss it over to Doris Burke, who interviewed various players and their family members. If you watched the whole telecast then you noticed that Burke asked questions that specifically related to who she was speaking with, while for the most part Smith kept asking variations of "What can your new team expect you to contribute?" Granted, the players are young and nervous and Smith was hardly given a huge role, but he could have at least tried to ask something specific about each player rather than lobbing a generic, forgettable question that led automatically to a preprogrammed, generic and forgettable reply along the lines of "I will do whatever my new team asks me to do."

One of the most interesting things about this draft is that there is a decent chance that none of the most ballyhooed players will win Rookie of the Year; Greg Oden, last year's number one overall selection, could very well earn that honor if he puts up good rebounding and shot blocking numbers for a Portland team that should be able to contend for a playoff berth in the strong Western Conference.

Here is a capsule look at what I wrote about the three previous NBA Drafts:

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

What I said in 2007: "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."

What I think now: Those two sentences should be the preamble to every single article that is written right after any draft.

Thoughts on the NBA Draft (2006)

What I said in 2006: "There were so many trades going on throughout the draft that I kept waiting for Monty Hall to come out of the audience and take the microphone away from Dan Patrick. Greg Anthony was so befuddled at one point that he said, 'No comment,' as if he were being deposed under oath. Stephen A. Smith completely ripped the Portland Trail Blazers but I don't understand why he did not ask a direct question of Blazers President Steve Patterson when Patterson appeared on the telecast via satellite. Portland has clearly made some questionable moves in the past, but they got rid of undersized point guard Sebastian Telfair and obtained LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, either of whom conceivably could turn out to be the best player in this year's draft. Portland also acquired Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau while shipping away Theo Ratliff and Victor Khryapa. It seems unfair and misguided for Smith to criticize these deals three seconds after they have transpired when there is a decent chance that these moves actually helped Portland. Ratliff is a quality shotblocker but Portland hardly gave up the house to get Aldridge and Roy. Smith's verbal broadsides against Portland came across as the proverbial 'shoot, ready, aim' style of analysis. Just because ESPN made a movie about Telfair does not mean that he will be a great NBA player."

What I think now: Portland fans are happy that Stephen A. Smith is not running their team; NBA fans are happy that Smith's role on ESPN's NBA Draft coverage was reduced from commentator to interviewer.

Thoughts on the NBA Draft (2005)

What I said in 2005: "Utah...acquired the third pick from Portland and selected Illinois' Deron Williams, a poor man's Jason Kidd who seems to be the perfect fit for Jerry Sloan's system. He won't make anyone forget John Stockton (who could?) but Utah expects him to man the point guard spot for the next 10 years or so."

What I think now: I was right to praise the Williams pick and to pan the Clippers' choice of Yaroslav Korolev with the 12th pick. On the other hand, I did not even mention Chris Paul and he has turned out to be the best player from that draft so far. Atlanta's choice of Marvin Williams over Paul and Deron Williams will only haunt the Hawks for the next decade or so.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:25 AM

12 comments

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12 Comments:

At Friday, June 27, 2008 10:04:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

ESPNs coverage is terrible. I miss when the draft was on TBS with Rick Barry, Bob Neal, John Thompson, Larry Conley etc. When I have to hear from Bilas that Augustin is better than TJ Ford or when Bilas called Martell Webster the next Dale Ellis I mute the tv. The idea that Augustin, who hasnt practiced for the Bobcats yet (I wonder how Felton (14 pts, 7 asts last yr feels about this pick...why would you pick someone in the top 10 for him to ride the bench and Felton is not a bad player) shows that these guys need to watch more NBA. I guess they are trying to trade him. Why would LB want to get rid of a Carolina point guard? Then I have Chad Ford telling me Augustin is an upgrade over Felton. I dont think Augustin will be better than Jameer Nelson. Its not easy being a 5 foot 9 or 10point guard in the NBA.

Stephen Smith has fallen so quickly its mindboggling. He had a TV show, radio show, and wrote for a major newspaper. Now he lost the TV and radio show and was fired from his paper. Hes not even a major priority for ESPNs NBA coverage. Quite Frankly maybe he needs to watch Doris Burke.

Regardless of what the Nets and Bucks did they will still be bad teams in a bad conference.

How irrelevant a comment from Compact Disc-Recordable about not losing a one on one game? (Im reading Vecsey a little too much)He should have made those free throws against Kansas.

The Knicks as usual found a way to mess up. Only certain teams are good at drafting foreign talent and the Knicks have never been one of those teams. Maybe this kid pans out but I doubt it. I guess D'Antoni owed his dad a favor.

 
At Friday, June 27, 2008 4:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

I loved TBS/TNT's coverage also, particularly back when Hubie Brown was the only guy who knew anything about the foreign players and he would give a scouting report while some grainy black and white footage was shown.

I agree with you about Augustin.

My problem with Smith is that ESPN tried initially to showcase him as some kind of NBA expert. He is not an NBA expert; he's an opinionated person who screams a lot. No one who understands the NBA would say a fraction of the things that he has said over the years.

I think that the Nets and Bucks will both improve but probably still not make the playoffs.

I hate terms like "sleeper" and "upside" but let's just say that I think that CDR should have been picked earlier than he was.

I haven't seen Gallinari play so I have no idea how good he will be. Everyone laughed at Don Nelson for picking Nowitzki and the guy became a perennial All-Star and won an MVP (even if Kobe really should have won it).

 
At Sunday, June 29, 2008 5:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymius reggie

o j mayo has a chance to be a great player in nba to me i disagree he is just going to be solid he could be a multiple allstar 4 or 5 time with that said who compared him to lebron or kobe? whoever did is on crack kobe 10 time all star all nba 10 time 3 championships numerous records lebron the king 4 first tea all nab in 5 years finals apperance 4 all star avg 30 twice he 30 7 and 7 basically.

rose and beasley is the truth to me miami wasnt going to take him supposedly yea right they was takeing him all.

 
At Sunday, June 29, 2008 5:32:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

CDR definitely should have been picked earlier...winning the title might of helped his stock.

I agree with the reasons Stephen was hired. I remember when he was first on the NBA pregame with Anthony and Legler and Anthony asked him "why are you telling?"

Hubie knew everything about the players overseas in those drafts.

 
At Sunday, June 29, 2008 6:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Of course, Mayo has a chance to be great and, as I said, I only saw him play a few times, but my initial impression is that I think that he is a bit overhyped and overrated. He does not look exceptional to me. I expect him to have a solid career but five All-Star selections seems like a stretch at this point.

Mayo has been compared to LeBron since Mayo was in high school. I think that this comparison is completely absurd.

 
At Sunday, June 29, 2008 6:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

I think that you meant to type "Why are you yelling?" That is an excellent question that has yet to be satisfactorily answered.

 
At Monday, June 30, 2008 7:45:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Didn't Kevin Love get measured at less than 6'8" without shoes? Does he really even qualify as a big man?

I like Love's game, but I have a feeling that he will struggle at the defensive end. He seems to be too slow for some of the more athletic forwards in the league. I wouldn't be surprised if he has more success defensively as an undersized center. In any case, I'd feel much better about his high draft position if he were 2 or 3 inches taller.

 
At Monday, June 30, 2008 10:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I'm not sure how Love measured out but I think that he is a legit NBA big based on his skill set. He reminds me of Brad Miller: a guy who can make an outside shot, rebound and pass well. Miller is not tremendous athletically but he made the All-Star team a couple times and has averaged 12.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 3.0 apg in his career. At his peak he put up roughly 15-10-4, numbers that I think Love can reach in time.

 
At Tuesday, July 01, 2008 4:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

stephen a smith is a lengendary commentar i love stephen he is hood analyst he played college ball he knows what he is talking about and he ask tough questions he is not weak with his questions and ask real questions. he is respected by most players and coaches and sources seem to be accurate he is not as good as you david but he is good espn is makeing a mistake cancelling quite frankly and the radio show and cutting his air time e should host the draft.

if you ask me he is as good as stuart scott? or jay bilas he is no expert jeff van gundy and jackson are but smith would do well as host of the show like he was doris burke is all right i rather hear a women who played at a high level comment on mens ball like nancy leiberman cline cheryl miller etc, michelle tafoya was a cheerleader so was burke and pam lady from tnt they try to be pretty looking.

he is loud thats just how black commentators are it is within our culture to be more exxprsive then whites not to bring up race but that what it is.

 
At Tuesday, July 01, 2008 5:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

When did Stephen A. become legendary? Maybe he is a legend in his own mind but that's about it.

He sat on the bench in college and then later he wrote an article ripping his former coach, the legendary Clarence "Big House" Gaines, saying that the game had passed him by. Gaines' response was that he didn't pay attention to things that are said by people who don't know what they are talking about (that story was told in the film Black Magic, which ironically aired on ESPN earlier this year).

I don't think that Stephen A. is as respected by people in the know as you think; he's worked the NBA beat for a while so naturally he has developed some contacts, plus when you work for an outlet like ESPN people want to talk to you because they can get more publicity that way to air their side of a given story. If an NBA player wants to quickly say something to the public, he's going to tell Smith or someone from ESPN because it is sure to be on the next SportsCenter, plus ESPN.com, ESPN News, etc.

Stuart Scott is much more suited to be a host than Stephen A. because Scott knows when to talk and when to get the real analysts involved. I know that Scott gets on some people's nerves but I think that he is good at what he does.

Bilas played at Duke and has worked as an assistant coach there, so he has more playing and coaching credentials than Smith by far. Bilas is on the draft show because he covers the college game. I don't always agree with him but he is knowledgeable.

I don't know Burke's background but whenever I have seen her on the air she does a solid (or better) job.

Smith and Dickie V. are both loud; I don't think this has anything to do with race.

 
At Wednesday, July 02, 2008 12:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie


his loudness is how blacks express themselves. but anyway youre probably right about stepehen a but ilike his commentary he is big with kobe and lebron and other and not afraid of tough questions. he dissed big house gaines i never seen that show you said.


stepen more or less is funny more than anything really on real commentary you probably right he knows alot of people because of his connections with espn etc i thoug he was still with philadelphia inquirer oh well you probably right about him.

 
At Wednesday, July 02, 2008 7:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Stephen A. is no longer with the Inquirer and there is a court case going on to resolve that situation.

If I were Greg Anthony or any of the ESPN analysts who actually know basketball I'd be a bit offended have Stephen A. placed alongside me as a supposed NBA expert. Stephen A. is much better suited to be a reporter than to be an alleged NBA expert analyst. Frankly, even as an NBA analyst who is not employed by ESPN it strikes me as ludicrous that anyone would consider Stephen A. an NBA expert, as opposed to considering him a reporter or someone who is brought on the air to scream and yell because some people find that entertaining. The man said that Denver would make the Finals, Cleveland would miss the playoffs and he was killing the Blazers when they drafted Roy and Aldridge. No NBA analyst gets everything right but no competent NBA analyst gets that many things that wrong.

 

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