Thursday, June 25, 2009

Draft a good place to find good big men to fill big holes


Before the last two seasons, there was a stretch in which either Shaquille O'Neal or Tim Duncan won eight of the nine NBA championships. This year, we saw the Orlando Magic become an elite team with the development of Dwight Howard.

The best formula for winning in the NBA starts with a dominant big man, but the likes of Shaq, Duncan and Dwight don't come around often.

Blake Griffin isn't on that level, but he can be an All-Star and make an impact. And he's much more of a sure thing than anyone else in this Draft. So even though the Clippers already have too many big men, they're set to take Griffin with the first pick.

Here are the lottery teams that could use some help on the frontline the most (first round picks in parentheses).

1. Memphis Grizzlies (2 and 27)

Under contract: Marc Gasol, Darko Milicic, Darrell Arthur

With a solid, young core of Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Gasol, the Grizzlies are missing only their power forward of the future. And by getting the second pick in the lottery, they miss him again. With Griffin off the board, the Grizzlies could reach a bit and fill their need with Arizona's Jordan Hill, because Hasheem Thabeet isn't an obvious fit next to Gasol. They also could trade down and get Hill a few picks later.

2. New York Knicks (8)

Under contract: Al Harrington, Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries

In Mike D'Antoni's system, a traditional big man isn't needed, but the Knicks do need some sort of interior presence, especially on defense, even if they bring back restricted free agent David Lee. Hill might be a good fit, but of greater need is getting someone who can run the offense, and with plenty of point guards to go around, the Knicks may have to find a big man elsewhere.

3. Sacramento Kings (4 and 23)

Under contract: Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes, Kenny Thomas

The Kings have used their last two lottery picks on Hawes and Thompson, and both have shown promise. But you always need more than two bigs, so the Kings could do worse than bringing another big man into the fold.

4. New Jersey Nets (11)

Under contract: Brook Lopez, Yi Jianlian, Ryan Anderson, Josh Boone, Sean Williams

With Lopez, the Nets should be set at center for years to come. Their other bigs each have various skills, but none is close to being a total package, and none provides the defense and rebounding the Nets need. Five years after he left, this team is still missing the skills of Kenyon Martin.

5. Milwaukee Bucks (10)

Under contract: Andrew Bogut, Amir Johnson, Kurt Thomas, Dan Gadzuric

Before his season was cut short by a back injury, Bogut was starting to look like one of the better centers in the league. Tuesday's trade of Richard Jefferson frees up more money to resign Charlie Villanueva (who is a restricted free agent), but if he goes elsewhere, Milwaukee has a hole at the four.

6. Charlotte Bobcats (12)

Under contract: Boris Diaw, Emeka Okafor, Nazr Mohammed, DeSagana Diop

The Bobcats are solid up front but could use some athleticism to complement Okafor and Diaw. The have a greater need on the perimeter.

Other lottery teams

7. Toronto Raptors (8) -- As they stand, the Raptors need depth beyond Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani, and they may need insurance should Bosh bolt in 2010.

8. Golden State Warriors (7) -- With the way they play, the Warriors don't need a full complement of big men. But should they ever go traditional ...

9. Phoenix Suns (14) -- Shaq's on his way out, but Robin Lopez is waiting in the wings.

10. Oklahoma City Thunder (3 and 25) -- Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and Nick Collison are a solid trio, but Hasheem Thabeet could make the OKC frontline even stronger.

11. Indiana Pacers (13) -- Roy Hibbert finished his rookie season strong and Troy Murphy had the best season of his career.

12. Los Angeles Clippers (1) -- They don't need another big man, but they're getting one anyway.

13. Minnesota (5 and 6) -- In Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, the Wolves have a terrific young frontline duo.

Non-lottery teams most in need of a big

Detroit (15) -- Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Kwame Brown are all unrestricted free agents.

Atlanta (19) -- Zaza Pachulia is a free agent and they've got Al Horford playing center.

Utah (20) -- Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur can opt out of their contracts and Paul Millsap is a restricted free agent.

Cleveland (30) -- Anderson Varejao will likely decline his player option. The rest of the Cavs' frontline is long in the tooth.

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TNT's David Aldridge goes one-on-one with NBA bloggers


David Aldridge: I think most of the time people take the best player available, I don't think that changes much year to year. Sometimes, you have the perfect marriage of need and best player available, but I think most times talent wins out in this league. So, even though you may have a talented player at one position, if there's somebody on the board that's just head and shoulders better than anybody else; I think the feeling nowadays is you can always trade contracts. In this environment, especially with the economy the way it is, people are always looking to save money, so even a bad contract can be dealt if it's an expiring one. I think that best player usually wins out.

2. Are there many teams that are looking to deal their draft picks due to the current financial climate? Or are they more likely to stash players overseas? (A Stern Warning)

DA: I think you'll see some teams maybe not even bother to get into the draft for that reason. I think Denver [Nuggets] is an example of a team that did a lot of work to get under the [luxury] tax last year; I don't think that they are all that fired up about getting back into the draft and paying guaranteed money to somebody that's probably not going to play a lot for the them next year. So, that's the kind of example of the economy impacting what teams do. Instead of being aggressive, I think some teams may be passive. Now you know your Portland's and some of your other teams -- Houston is going to buy in at some point in the first round -- they'll find somebody to do business with. But, I do think that you'll see some teams just not doing anything, as opposed to what they would normally do, which is be active at the end of the first round and try to get one of those late first-round picks.

3. Why are prospects seeming to not want to play for Memphis? What is it about Memphis that is different from other small markets? (3 Shades of Blue)

DA: I think that's a bit overblown, you're talking about one guy in [Ricky] Rubio and the reason why Rubio is reluctant is because Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro didn't have great experiences there, so I'm sure that they've talked to him and probably did not give a glowing picture of Memphis, but I don't think that there's a groundswell of discontent for the city of Memphis or with the Grizzlies. I think that's the case of that particular player; because of his background has had a chance to talk to other players. But no, Memphis is still a place where people are going to want to go, and if it's not Rubio somebody else very good is going to wind up going there.

4. Stephen Curry: Impact player (a la Eddie House) or simply the best shooter in the warm-up lines? Or both? (Peter Robert Casey)

DA: I think he will be much like his father, a very good role player for a long time in the NBA. He's smart and knows how to play. I think he's going to be a pretty solid point guard. ... I don't expect spectacular from him, but I think he's going to be a guy that is going to play for a long time in this league. A great demeanor and great character guy, a guy that's willing to take big shots and make big shots. Whether he's starting for you or he's your sixth man, it doesn't really matter; he's going to wind up helping you win basketball games. I think he's going to be an excellent role player. If he winds up on a good team somehow, he could really make a huge impact next year. But if not, more likely he ends up with a struggling team, it might take him a few years to really break in.

5. Patrick Mills was looking like a world-beater a year ago with St. Mary's and then in the Olympics for Australia, but an injury certainly set him back. Do you think that with this draft being so deep with point guards that Mills' stock will be severely set back by his injury-riddled season? (A Stern Warning)

DA: Well he'll get drafted; I was surprised he stayed in though, because this is a great point guard filled draft. It surprised me that Patty stayed in because he was never a guy that was going to be a top-half of the lottery guy and I thought this year would be a good year for point guards to pass if you weren't assured of being a top-half of the lottery guy. I think you saw [Greivis] Vasquez go back for example, and that made a lot of sense. Patty is going to get drafted, it could be late first [round], but there's teams that could look at him. Dallas [Mavericks] certainly could take him with the 22nd pick, and that wouldn't surprise me at all, but it wouldn't surprise if he lasted into the second round either.

6. What are your feelings towards the Kings draft and what they'll do with the No. 4 selection. Do you think Ricky Rubio will fall to Sacramento? (Kings Forum)

DA: If he's there, and I'm not sure he's going to be there, but if he is there I think that's the guy they will take. I know that there are people in the organization that like Tyreke Evans, so I think that they're having a discussion about that right now about which way they would go if those two were available on the board. But, my guess would be that Rubio would take the argument there. I think Ricky has got star potential, I think he could be a superstar in this league in terms of his ability and his personality. Sacramento certainly needs a little bit of a bump; they need some juice back in that organization. So if he's there I think it's Rubio, if not I think it's Evans.

7. Joe Ingles has not been exposed to American audiences much, coming from Australia. Has there been much positive feedback around the league after his workouts with teams? (A Stern Warning)

DA: I think Joe [Ingles] a couple of weeks ago, maybe right around Chicago [workouts] there was a lot of interest and buzz in him. He did ok in Chicago; he didn't do badly in Chicago, but I think as it's gone on and he's done the individual workouts, I believe with Minnesota and New Jersey, it's kind of cooled a little bit. I don't get the sense that Joe is going to be a first round pick. I think he's a possible second round pick, but I'm not sure. Athletically, I don't think people see the explosion and quickness that a player would need at his position to play in the league. That doesn't mean that nobody will take a look at him, but I certainly don't think he's a first round pick at this point.

8. Rumors have suggested that Stephen Curry might no longer fall to the New York Knicks at the 8th spot, what is the latest you are hearing? (Hugging Harold Reynolds)

DA: [It'll come down to] whoever gets to 5 [pick]. Whoever trades with Washington is going to take Curry, I'm convinced of that. I can't tell you right now who it is, you have to read that on or watch NBA TV later today. Whoever gets to that 5th pick is going to take Curry.

9. Have you heard any rumblings at all about a possible Bulls deal that will be happening on Thursday? The Bulls have 2 first round picks which they can use to either move up, or bundle with a couple of nice young players to make a huge move. (Docksquad Sports)

DA: Well they've been trying, I don't know if they're going to be successful. I think that they would love to get a big at that position, but I'm not sure they're going to be able to get it done. I've tried to check with everybody in the top 15, I haven't gotten any sense, other than Washington, that anybody is really gung-ho about trading their pick. I don't think that New York wants to move back, even if it involves getting two picks; I don't get the sense that they would do that. I don't think Minnesota wants to move back, they already have 18 and 25, so they don't have any need to move back. I'm not sure Chicago is going to be able to get this done at this point.

10. With the Suns drafting 14th there's a limited number of guys that are going to available. Which of these draft picks has the greatest potential to be an all star in 5 years? Earl Clark, James Johnson, Austin Daye, Ty Lawson or Terrence Williams. (Bright Side of the Sun)

DA: Terrence Williams won't be there. [James] Johnson has been linked to them for a little while. I could see that or [Earl] Clark. Johnson is a very physical guy, he's not a great athlete but he's got some toughness about him, so I could see that as a possibility. Clark is kind of an up and down guy. He's got a lot of talent, but he's very inconsistent, or at least he was inconsistent at Louisville...that has some people concerned. [Ty] Lawson, I think that may be a pick or two too high for him, especially considering I think they going to resign Steve Nash to an extension of some kind, so I'd be surprised if they took a point there. The more likely scenario is that they take some sort of frontcourt guy there.

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Getting Draft pick right not as easy as it might look


It goes without saying that the NBA Draft is unpredictable. But the most unpredictable element isn't Draft order or trades. It's the mercurial talent.

Will Michael Olowokandi actually be a franchise cornerstone? Are we getting a steal with this Brandon Roy kid? Those are the unknowns. I thought Michael Beasley was going to take the league by storm and put up a slick 18-8 in his rookie season. I was wrong, along with a slew of other suckers. But I was also in a small minority that suspected Mario Chalmers -- with the right squad -- could step in and be a sufficient starting point guard. Young dude started 81 of 82 games last season, tossing in a neat 10 points and five assists a game.

In recent years there is instance after instance where I've nailed it or been egregiously wrong about how a prospect is going to perform. I was pushing for Emeka Okafor over Dwight Howard in 2004. Wrong. That same year, I scoffed at Jay Bilas claiming Josh Smith was going to be the biggest bust of the Draft and, last I looked, Smith has exceeded most early expectations. Earlier in that Draft, when Dick Vitale pilloried the Sixers for drafting Andre Iguodala over -- wait for this one -- Luke Friggin' Jackson, I immediately started looking into Florida retirement homes with mental health facilities for Dickie V. But the next year, I was convinced that Rashad McCants was the second best player in the 2005 Class. Way off on that one. I was dead on, though, in touting Chris Paul as a future great.

You get my point, right? You may think you know, but you really don't. I'm through with claiming any prospect as a can't miss. Everyone is saying this year's class is substandard and I want to agree with that estimation. But how do we know? I see a lot of dudes (Jonny Flynn, Tyreke Evans, Ty Lawson, DeJuan Blair) that could end up killin' it in the league. Blake Griffin? He's supposed to be the new Carlos Boozer. But I'm not excited about anyone claimed to be "the new Carlos Boozer." The "next Tim Duncan" gets me amped. The "new Carlos Boozer"? Yawn. And Boozer can knock down an 18-footer with a good amount of regularity -- Blake Griffin can't. I'm not sold on the big man. Plus, personality-wise, he makes the most stoic athlete seem like Jimmy Fallon. But what do I know?

I think Brandon Jennings could end up being in the Chris Paul/Derrick Rose/Rajon Rondo/Deron Williams crew. Or he could be the next Sebastian Telfair. Why is everyone so high on James Harden? I see a smallish, non-explosive 2 guard. But I could be ignoring the next Brandon Roy.

Stephen Curry is the prospect that scares me the most. On Curry's page, there's a YouTube clip of him answering questions at the Draft combine, clearly showing that he's a well-adjusted, articulate, sharp young dude. He also lets on that he wants to be a Knick, given MSG's stage, D'Antoni's system and the Knicks' need for a "point guard that can shoot." Curry must have said "point guard" about 20 times during the four-minute clip. It's like his handlers told him, "Make sure you say 'point guard' as often as possible during this process, so we can dupe folks into thinking that's your natural position." Stephen Curry ain't no NBA point guard. I love his feel for the game, love his IQ, love his clutch-gene, but I see more Jason Terry than Steve Nash.

This could be trouble. For every Ben Gordon and Jason Terry, the league's history is littered with pint-size guards that couldn't hack it as a 2 guard and didn't have the requisite skill set to be a full time team-orchestrator at the point. Think about dudes like Shawn Respert and Juan Dixon and Melvin Booker and Eddie House and all the other tweeners that are relegated to spot duty or just shooed out of the league altogether.

People don't just "like" Curry. Much of the nation is "devoted" to him after he captivated us all when he put David(son) on his scrawny shoulders and slayed a bunch of Goliaths in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Basketball fans want him to succeed and NBA general managers are enthralled by some of the unique things he can do. His release is lightning quick (which always helps undersized guards get off their shots against bigger opponents; see Jeff Hornacek), his range is practically unlimited and he's a crafty driver. Those natural skills could help him as a 2 guard. Problem is, he's only 6-foot-3, so thin it looks like he's made of spaghetti and he's not explosive like, say, Terry or Gordon. He knew this going into his senior year of college so -- to improve his draft stock (and, admittedly, fill a team hole) -- he played full-time point guard. He did alright. NBA point guard, on the other hand, is wholly different than playing point guard in the ACC, let alone the Southern Conference. For Curry to succeed at the NBA's most challenging position, he's going to have to to rewire the way he thinks the game, reconfigure his basketball DNA. I'm suspicious.

Curry can be a Janero Pargo. No doubt about that. Drafting him in the Top 10, though, means you think he can be a top-flight point guard. I don't even know if I think Curry can be a D.J. Augustin point guard. Then again, I thought Deron Williams was gonna be nothing but a somewhat souped-up John Bagley. So ... time will tell. I'm sure of that.

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