First Impressions of the 2008 NBA DraftI 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.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:25 AM