The 2011 NBA Draft is mere days away and even though picks 20 through 60 are always an unpredictable free-for-all, the impending anarchy of Thursday evening is even more menacing.
Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Brandon Knight and Enes Kanter should be in the top-five, but this is hardly your LeBron, Darko, Carmelo, Bosh, Wade type of top-five in terms of projected satisfaction.
But even though this draft (for the umpteenth time) lacks a better than 50/50 bet to become a franchise player, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the aforementioned picks 20 through 60 will be memorably strong.
We enjoy celebrating GMs who find the Millsaps, Gilberts and Manus, which is why the Adam Silver portion of the draft will be watchable for more than just the chants from those waiting to sober up before heading back on the Turnpike. We are more likely to see a second rounder or two in the Rookie Challenge than see a member from this class in a Sunday All-Star game by the time Barack Obama leaves office.
With each new mock, it becomes more difficult to feel comfortable with who is being left to the second round. For me, players like JaJuan Johnson, Lon Leuer, Iman Shumpert, Tyler Honeycutt, Nolan Smith, Trey Thompkins and E’Twaun Moore all have NBA minutes in them.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving, Duke
If the Bulls were given this equation in 2008, they could have picked between Derrick Rose and Kevin Love/Brook Lopez, or Michael Beasley and Russell Westbrook. The former is much better result and this is why the Cavaliers will go with the player without a positional issue at number one.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves: Derrick Williams, Arizona
Continuing the 2008 retrospective, only in Michael Beasley’s world does his team get stuck with the second overall pick in a year where the second best prospect represents the safe and sane version of himself.
3. Utah Jazz: Brandon Knight, Kentucky
With no guarantees about who will be remaining at number twelve, the Jazz will almost certainly be forced into picking Knight. If I could be guaranteed either Fredette or Walker at twelve, picking Kanter or Valanciunas would represent the better play, but passing on Knight here has the trap of being the first pick of this draft that will haunt a front office for years.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Enes Kanter, Kentucky
The Cavaliers are spending more time with the Irving pick than probably need be, but the real work comes here at four where Kanter, Valanciunas and Leonard all deserve thoughtful consideration. The situation becomes less problematic, however, when you acknowledge Kanter simultaneously represents the highest upside of the three and the lowest bust potential.
5. Toronto Raptors: Jan Vesely, Partizan
Assuming Toronto and Washington keep their picks, it is difficult for me to imagine a scenario where Vesely and Leonard aren’t picks five and six in some order. Vesely is more ready to contribute right away, even if he will be more limited in the long-term than his counterpart.
6. Washington Wizards: Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
John Wall needs to be surrounded by athletes and shooters. Leonard is an athlete now and has a substantial amount of latent potential where he can develop into a strong mid-range shooter in time. His potential to be one of the two or three best players on his team is risky, but he is very clearly the type of player any coach would want to have around.
7. Sacramento Kings: Jimmer Fredette, Brigham Young
Unless the Raptors reach at number five or someone trades up, one of the Jimmer/Kemba pairing will be picked here and the other will need to wait until 13 at the earliest. I’ve had Walker in the seventh slot since the lottery, but Fredette makes just as much sense given the team needs and the unique situation of having Tyreke Evans entrenched at shooting guard.
8. Detroit Pistons: Bismack Biyombo, Baloncesto Fuenlabrada
If the actual draft stays true to this mock, it will be either Biyombo or Valanciunas for Joe Dumars. When you are selecting eight and have a difficult five minutes to make the call, you go with your gut and I trust Dumars’ gut would match mine.
9. Charlotte Bobcats: Jonas Valanciunas, Lietuvos Rytas
The Bobcats have seemed to be married to picking Marcus Morris since even before the lottery, but if a player who could very well go third overall slides all the way to nine, I would hope they learn from the lesson of 2008.
10. Milwaukee Bucks: Klay Thompson, Washington State
Thompson remains unchanged from my mock over a week ago, where he is the much better fit for the needs of Scott Skiles and John Hammond than Alec Burks.
11. Golden State Warriors: Marcus Morris, Kansas
Unless Monta Ellis can be turned into Andre Iguodala, it will be nearly impossible for the Warriors to find a more suitable solution to their small forward need. For a team without an inside scorer, Morris holds tremendous value.
12. Utah Jazz: Chris Singleton, Florida State
Singleton seemed locked into a selection of either 12th or 14th and would fit in perfectly with the rebuilding Jazz.
13. Phoenix Suns: Kemba Walker, Connecticut
A free-fall for someone is inevitable in a draft of this nature and Walker is a candidate in some circles.
14. Houston Rockets: Alec Burks, Colorado
The NBA game may become more suitable for the strengths of Burks, but this absolutely represents appropriate value in my estimation. He has the hallmarks of another very good but not very great player acquired during the Daryl Morey tenure.
15. Indiana Pacers: Tristan Thompson, Texas
Maybe he’ll grow another two inches and become the Danny Granger of 2011? If not, Thompson fits an important need for Larry Bird and David Morway and is a gem of a find at 15.
16. Philadelphia 76ers: Nikola Vucevic, USC
The Sixers have one of the deeper teams in the NBA, but Vucevic would fill a niche they need.
17. New York Knicks: Josh Selby, Kansas
New York’s current roster needs call for a point guard and a center, but neither will be available with the 17th overall selection. A Selby selection would seem more like an asset acquisition for a 2012 sign-and-trade or for the Triangle than for SSoL.
18. Washington Wizards: Nikola Mirotic, Real Madrid
Picking Mirotic would say a lot about Ernie Grunfeld’s sense of job security and/or selflessness since he will remain in Spain for the foreseeable future. Mirotic shows undeniable glimpses of top-five potential, but the refinement his game will undergo in the ACB and Euroleague will be beneficial for all and the best players always eventually come to the NBA so the risk is minimal for a team not needing an instant contribution.
19. Charlotte Bobcats: Darrius Morris, Michigan
We’re still waiting for a signature pick from the Michael Jordan front office and I suspect/recommend he pull out the 8.5 degree driver for this one. I have serious reservations about specific aspects of Morris’ game, but I find it easy to argue he has the greatest amount of upside of anyone else remaining on the board.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves: Markieff Morris, Kansas
Markieff Morris could find rotation minutes on any roster in the NBA, so he becomes a nice addition for one of the most convoluted.
21. Portland Trail Blazers: Kenneth Faried, Morehead State
The Faried buzz has been far quieter than expected as some scouts appear to be pessimistic on those areas we know Faried won’t improve upon and optimistic on other candidates who have room to grow. I still see Faried as one of the safer picks of the second half of the first round since his attributes translate and are so well-defined.
22. Denver Nuggets: Marshon Brooks, Providence
I saw the Kobe Bryant comparisons coming from a mile away because of the way he likes to play with his back to the basket on the wing, but never expected any earnestness in those comparisons. He feels more like a D-League scorer than even an instant offense off the NBA bench type of guy, particularly because of the shoddy way he played defense at Providence. He is a boom/bust type of pick and it will be linked almost exclusively to the type of system he goes to and how he is used.
23. Houston Rockets: Donatas Motiejunas, Benetton Treviso
Motiejunas has improved and should contribute immediately, but he is unlikely to ever become a starter.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jordan Hamilton, Texas
Hamilton’s future will be as a floor spreader and that role is badly needed on the Thunder since it often plays Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka on the floor simultaneously. Playing Kevin Durant and Hamilton at the two forward positions is an appealing counter.
25. Boston Celtics: Justin Harper, Richmond
Harper has many of the same qualities to add to the Celtics that Danny Ainge saw in Jeff Green. The difference is that the price is much more reasonable.
26. Dallas Mavericks: Jeremy Tyler, Tokyo Apache
With a freshly minted LOB trophy, the Mavericks can once again gamble on a project seven-footer.
27. New Jersey Nets: Travis Leslie, Georgia
The Nets are badly in need of an upgrade at the wings, especially when it comes from a supreme athlete.
28. Chicago Bulls: Davis Bertans, Union Olimpija
It is hard to imagine a team that could use a shooter with length like Bertans more than the 2013-14 Chicago Bulls.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Tobias Harris, Tennessee
The Spurs could take Greg Smith here and it would look good because everyone trusts their system to make it work. If Harris slides to 29, imagine how lauded it will be with that in mind.
30. Chicago Bulls: Reggie Jackson, Boston College
There are a ton of future backup point guards in this draft (at least one will be in the lottery) and it is difficult to envision the Bulls not walking away with one of them. Jackson has the greatest potential of the bunch and the Bulls won’t be scared off by a temporary knee injury.