Wednesday, June 24, 2009

NBA Draft Preview 2009

I may not be as tuned in to college basketball as I once was, and I have never known anything about international basketball, but as always, I'm more than happy to talk about a topic I have no business talking about. As such, let's dive right into my 2009 NBA draft predictions!

I'll just be covering the lottery. "My hypocrisy only goes so far."
  1. The Los Angeles Clippers select Blake Griffin, forward from the University of Oklahoma. No surprise here, Griffin is the highest caliber player in this draft by a wide margin. Most analysts I've heard talk about Griffin say he'll be a fine player, but never a star. He's still got work to do on his offensive game, but he's got the best hands I've seen in five years in the draft. A guy that strong and with those rebounding instincts won't be able to help being a double-double producer on a daily basis. I expect him to be a star.
  2. The Memphis Grizzlies select Ricky Rubio, guard from Spain. There's talk about other players at this pick, but I really think the Grizzlies will look at Rubio as the most talented guy available, and since they're not exactly brimming with talent in Memphis, they'll grab him. He doesn't have tremendous physical skills, but at point guard, you need instincts and polish, and despite being only 18, Rubio has both in spades. Could end up being the best player from this draft.
  3. The Oklahoma City Thunder select Hasheem Thabeet, center from the University of Connecticut. Thabeet is a junior, but he's still extremely raw. He's got good physical skills and surprising touch on his shot, but he'll be drafted mostly based on his defensive upside. He's 7'3" with long arms, but he'll have to work better on his positioning at the next level, because he won't always be a half-foot taller than his opponents anymore. He's a ways off from knowing what to do on offense, but he's capable of becoming a very solid two-way player.
  4. The Sacramento Kings select Jordan Hill, forward from the University of Arizona. Talk about a team with needs all over the place. While SG James Harden is more of a known commodity, the Kings don't need the safe pick. They need to hit the jackpot. Hill would give Sacramento three recently drafted interior players, and you have to think one of them will pan out. He's got a lot of potential, but right now is just an athlete. His development will depend heavily on his commitment to improving. If he's game for it, though, Hill could be as good as Amare Stoudemire.
  5. The Minnesota Timberwolves select Tyreke Evans, guard from the University of Memphis. Minnesota really just needs players, especially after trading Randy Foye and Mike Miller, but Evans happens to fit a particular weakness at point guard. He's big, athletic, and can create his own shot. There are attitude concerns, specifically that he likes being a one-man show, but I don't generally put too much stock in "character" in the NBA; they're all so young that it's unfair to judge them. And say what you will about Evans being a ball-hog, but his teams were successful, which is all that matters.
  6. The Minnesota Timberwolves select Stephen Curry, guard from Davidson College. This is all assuming the Timberwolves don't make some sort of trade on draft day, which seems more and more likely every day. Curry's stock has risen steadily since the end of the NCAA season, and while they say you can always teach someone to shoot better, it's nice to not have to. Curry still has work to do to become a legitimate point guard and avoid becoming a Stephon Marbury on the court, but he can shoot so well that he should be able to become a scorer for Minnesota immediately.
  7. The Golden State Warriors select DeJuan Blair, forward from the University of Pittsburgh. I've seen Blair fall as late as 21 in mock drafts, but he seems to be a perfect fit for the Warriors. They're overloaded with backcourt and wing players, and while Andris Biedrins is a solid big man, they've got nobody to complement him. Blair is strong and plays with big time energy. He may need some conditioning to keep him going over the longer and rougher pro game, but he can give Golden State worthwhile minutes right away.
  8. The New York Knicks select James Harden, guard from Arizona State University. Harden is a polished player who can fit into a lot of offenses. He's got a good ability to get to the hoop, and I've seen him go all the way up to #2 in mock drafts. I think his limited upside will make some teams sour on him, but he can certainly be a contributor going forward. Rarely do the Knicks make value picks, usually electing to go outside of convention to get their picks, but I think if Harden somehow slips this far, New York has an easy pick.
  9. The Toronto Raptors select Demar DeRozan, guard from the University of Southern California. DeRozan is another guy who's seen his draft stock fluctuate as we get close to the big day. He jumped a lot after workouts, then teams cooled a little as they continued to watch college film. Right now, he's really just an athlete, and in the short term will allow as many points as he scores. Still, he could develop into a great wing guard, and while his range will never scare anyone, he's got the tools to take over games down the road.
  10. The Milwaukee Bucks select Gerald Henderson, guard from Duke University. The Bucks just traded Richard Jefferson for some big men who won't be around in a year. They'll need someone to play a G/F position for them for the foreseeable future, and Henderson fits pretty well. He won't ever be a big time scorer, but like most Blue Devils, he's got good fundamentals and plays good defense. He's a smart player who projects to a high caliber sixth man on a good team, or the third best player on the Bucks.
  11. The New Jersey Nets select Jrue Holiday, guard from UCLA. The Nets feature a point guard who has just started to come into his own (Devin Harris), so why would they grab another potential point guard in Holiday? Well first, this draft is very guard-heavy at the top. If you draft a forward here, you're giving up a good amount of value. Second, Harris and Holiday both sort of play like shooting guards, so you can work around the perception that you've got two point guards. Holiday is raw, and won't become Allen Iverson, but his upside might be Andre Miller, someone both of us Joe's just love.
  12. The Charlotte Bobcats select Brandon Jennings, guard from Italy. Jennings is the nightmare for the NBA and NCAA hoops; he told the league to take their "one-and-done" system and shove it, playing in Europe for a year after graduating high school. He honed his skills against professional competition, and now he's draft-eligible. The Bobcats will look at Johnny Flynn here as well, but they've already got a point guard who shows poor shot selection and is prone to turnovers. I think they'd rather roll the dice with a potential star in Jennings.
  13. The Indiana Pacers select Terrence Williams, guard from Louisville University. Williams is sort of an anomaly among college athletes. He's a great defender with questionable scoring ability. On a team that needed scorers, Williams would be a bad fit, but on Indiana, he can slide into a role immediately and take time to work on his offensive game. I don't think Williams will ever be a star, but my guess is he ends up on a lot of winning teams due to his work ethic and intensity.
  14. The Phoenix Suns select Austin Daye, forward from Gonzaga University. Daye doesn't have much of a defensive presence, but he and Robin Lopez could give Phoenix a pleasant inside combo. The more guys you can work into a frontcourt rotation to keep Shaq healthy and fresh, the more frequently Shaq will be able to take over games. Daye is more of a wing player, but he's tall enough (6'10") that he can block passing lanes and disrupt things on the interior. Daye is a better fit on the 2004 Suns team than he will be on the 2009 one, but he'll still be solid.
In doing these projections, I've started to see why teams are always willing to take chances on power forwards and centers. There's never any depth at frontcourt positions in the draft, so when you see a guy who you think could pan out, you lunge at him. That's why I expect DeJuan Blair to be scooped up early this year, and why I probably made a mistake not projecting someone to take a chance on B.J. Mullens in the lottery. It's just tough to find good big men these days.

Tune in Thursday night to see how things pan out. Even with the Wizards out of the first round, I'm still excited. What can I say? I just love the NBA draft.

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