Even though no notable trades were consummated as the picks were made, something that usually adds a second level of excitement to the festivities, the 2012 NBA Draft still had plenty of intrigue.
Wizards Continue Transformation
The Washington Wizards traded Rashard Lewis and the No. 46 pick to the New Orleans Hornets for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza last week, beginning an offseason of transformation. They continued their makeover by using the third overall pick on Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal.
“He’s a great character person and we are trying to change the culture a bit here,” coach Randy Wittman said shortly after the pick.
While the frontcourt of Okafor and Nene is an expensive one, the backcourt of John Wall and Beal might soon be mentioned as one of the best in the NBA. Multiple people out of Washington told me that the locker room was a disaster last season and that the additions of Okafor and now Beal are expected to help significantly change their culture.
“Hopefully I can look up to these guys and they can take me under their wing and push me to be better and help the team out as much as I can,” Beal said. “We have two great bigs and a big point guard who can continue to get better and Ariza has proved that he can win games.”
The Austin Rivers Mess
You need more than two hands to count the number of teams linked to Austin Rivers in the 48 hours prior to the NBA Draft. His skill-set is a polarizing one, but being the son of Doc Rivers helped get headlines this month as it has since he became a nationally known recruit in high school. I don’t envy the position he’ll be in as a rookie under the microscope and in five or six years covering this event I’ve never seen a player loved by so many and hated by a group of similar size.
The Golden State Warriors were linked to Rivers at No. 7, but opted instead for Harrison Barnes. Then a number of reporters had the Toronto Raptors taking him eighth, but Terrence Ross was called instead.
In a light-hearted moment on a pressure-packed night, Rivers clapped when the Detroit Pistons used the ninth pick on Andre Drummond, putting the New Orleans Hornets back on the clock. Rivers preferred the franchise, who took Anthony Davis first overall and issued a qualifying offer to Eric Gordon earlier in the day.
Minutes later, he was officially a member of the Hornets and will now be coached by Monty Williams, a friend of the elder Rivers.
“He’s an exciting player. He brings energy and a passion to the game,” said general manager Dell Demps.
I had a lot of trouble believing the Celtics were truly interested in trading up to take Rivers, mostly because of the firestorm it would have created with a father/son combination in a huge media market. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported that Danny Ainge was more interested in Austin Rivers than Doc was and I whole-heartedly believe that to be the case -- if the curiosity was even real.
It was a neat story because he fit as the type of player the Celtics need, but I suspect it was more media creation than anything else. The story will continue into the regular season as the Hornets and Celtics will play twice.
“I think that’s even more fun, going against my dad, its competitive; bragging rights in the house, little things like that,” the younger Rivers said of facing Boston.
“Listen, I want my dad to do the best, except when we play them. It’s no pressure whether I play him or not.”
Lillard Becomes Marquee Point Guard Of Draft Class
Damian Lillard, drafted sixth by the Portland Trail Blazers, was the first point guard taken. He called a foot injury suffered as a junior “a blessing in disguise” on Wednesday as he is now just an internship shy of his degree at Weber State.
“It means a lot,” Lillard said of being the first point guard picked. “Like I said, coming from where I come from, it just shows that I have won people over. I’ve always been the underdog, high school, college, being overlooked.”
It’s safe to say that Lillard is no longer underrated -- there are expectations that come along with being the sixth pick in the NBA Draft. He is looking to prove that he can defend at this level and develop into one of the next star point guards to dominate the game.
“I think I can work my way to that point,” Lillard said of entering the class of players like Tony Parker and Deron Williams. “I think the type of point guard that I am is becoming the way of the point guards in the NBA when you look at Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, you see guys that score the ball really well but they get their teammates involved and they win games."
International Presence Lacking
Just one year ago, four of the first seven picks in the NBA Draft were born outside of the United States. There has been a lot of talk about the European market becoming diluted and the league trending away from drafting international players and Thursday night proved that may be the case.
The Denver Nuggets took Evan Fourier (France) with the 20th pick, making the swingman the first non-North American player drafted. Andrew Nicholson, taken one pick prior by the Orlando Magic, is Canadian and played four seasons at St. Bonaventure.
When the dust cleared on the first round, two additional players were taken (Fab Melo, Brazil and Festus Ezeli, Nigeria) that were born outside of the United States, but both played collegiately here.
“I’m a slasher,” Fournier said when asked to introduce his game to American fans. “I’m kind of [Manu] Ginobili. I can charge to the basket and finish around the rim. I think that’s my biggest strength.
Proud Moment For United States
Florida State center Bernard James was drafted with the 33rd overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the pick is headed to the Dallas Mavericks in a trade involving the rights to first-round selection Tyler Zeller.
James is the best story in the draft -- Thomas Robinson and his tragic past notwithstanding -- when the crowd at the Prudential Center started chanting “U-S-A!” when his name was called goosebumps kicked in.
Portland Thinks They Have Much-Needed Center
Five picks after filling a backcourt void with Lillard, the Trail Blazers drafted who they believe will be their center of the future in Meyers Leonard. Perhaps the least-known of the top prospects in this class, the Illinois big will have a chance to come in and play alongside an All-Star forward in LaMarcus Aldridge.
“I’m going to come in and be a sponge and work as hard as possible,” Leonard said. “Obviously, with Portland they have LaMarcus at the four and I’m going to have to come in and prove myself, first and foremost. Knowing I have an opportunity in front of me to possibly start or just even be a factor in games my first year, it’s a great feeling.”
Leonard opted to leave Illinois after two seasons, a decision he called “tough.” The decision proved to be a good one as his stock rose after the draft combine in Chicago due to his impressive physical profile.
“A lot of people say it was what I did on the court, but I also think my interviews went really, really well,” Leonard said the day before he was drafted. “I was right on point with them. I was really straight forward and I believe I showed some maturity that teams had some questions about.”
Celtics Take Two Bigs Back-To-Back
We still don’t know if the Boston Celtics will have a roster in severe transition next season, but they got some good value with back-to-back picks in the bottom third of the first round. The extent of that value, however, remains to be seen with question marks surrounding Jared Sullinger (21st) and Fab Melo (22nd).
The Celtics tried to trade up (see above Rivers Blurb), but doing so was “not very close,” according to assistant general manager Ryan McDonough.
Both Sullinger and Melo enter the NBA after their sophomore years and the latter appears to be the better fit for Boston’s defensive-minded philosophy. With that said, the Celtics will have gotten tremendous value late in the first round if Sullinger’s back does not become problematic.
“We thought they were both lottery talents and frankly didn’t expect them to be there,” McDonough told the media.
Melo was rated higher by some and if Garnett returns, I’d love to see the kind of imprint he can leave on him. Sullinger will at the very least help the Celtics on the glass, an area they struggled in this past season.
The Celtics ranked dead-last in offensive rebounding percentage and weren’t too much better on the defensive glass, grabbing 20% of available boards this past season. If Sullinger and Melo show an ability to rebound at this level, Rivers and the Celtics will find a way to get them playing time.