Thursday, June 25, 2009

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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