Wednesday, June 22, 2011

2011 NBA Draft Predictions

Other people like ESPN's Chad Ford rely on insider information to determine which prospect will be drafted by each of the various NBA teams on Thursday night's NBA draft. I use what limited information I have about each player's pro potential, and what I perceive to be each team's needs. Remember 2009, when I inexplicably put DeJuan Blair ahead of Austin Daye? Well, Blair is a solid contributor on a good team, and Daye is a do-nothing forward on a crummy team. So maybe I'm not always wrong.

Anyways, here we go. A wide open draft lottery gets predicted by an amateur...right now:
  1. The Cleveland Cavaliers select Kyrie Irving, guard from Duke University. The Cavs are feinting that they're still considering Derrick Williams at the #1 pick, but I don't buy it unless they work out a deal with the #4 pick. Irving and Williams are neck-and-neck in this draft, but Irving would be harder to replace with the talent I expect to be available at #4.
  2. The Minnesota Timberwolves select Derrick Williams, forward from the University of Arizona. Even the Timberwolves can't mess this one up, right? Whoever doesn't go #1 is a no-brainer at the second pick, and while Minnesota has made some no-brain picks in the past (drafting Ricky Rubio, then drafting Jonny Flynn, then drafting and trading Ty Lawson), Williams is a lock for #2. It's possible they trade the pick, but Williams will go second, for sure.
  3. The Utah Jazz select Brandon Knight, guard from the University of Kentucky. When you're consistently a good team, you don't have many opportunities at high draft picks. But they've made the most of their limited opportunities, grabbing superstar Deron Williams with their only top 5 pick since 1982. They're back at the top of the draft with a pick they acquired for Williams, and I think they'll use it on the most similar player to Williams in this draft. Knight is smart, agile, and motivated, and he's a great finisher at the rim. He might not be the next Deron Williams, but he also might be.
  4. The Cleveland Cavaliers select Jonas Valanciunas, center from Lithuania. I went back and forth on this pick, and this is where the draft really shakes loose, so each of these picks has a huge impact on the next few. Valanciunas is apparently locked in for another year with his Lithuanian team, which people say is scaring teams off. Hogwash, I say. The Cavs are among several teams that love love love the big man, and I think, with two top picks in the draft, they know they've got a couple years before they can expect to compete. So pick the guy you want, and be patient. And send a coach over there to keep him on the right path, basketball and otherwise.
  5. The Toronto Raptors select Enes Kanter, center from Turkey. I'd like to find a way to have Kanter drop to the Wizards at #6, but realistically he'll go at four or five, and I'll sigh. Anyways, Kanter is a banger with good hands, the kind of guy who can really improve his teammates. His presence, along with the hopeful development of Ed Davis, could allow Andrea Bargnani more freedom to possibly grow into a legitimate star. Good fit.
  6. The Washington Wizards select Kawhi Leonard, forward from San Diego State University. As I said, I think the Wizards would love to have Kanter as a Robin to John Wall's Batman, and they should explore trading up to get him (especially if they can unload that nightmare Andray Blatche). But if things go as I project, I think Leonard is a nice piece. He's unrefined, and he's still growing into his body, but his intensity is the real deal, and it shows in his defense and rebounding. It does mean the team is still on the lookout for a Robin, though.
  7. The Sacramento Kings select Jan Vesely, forward from the Czech Republic. The Kings have a sort of patchwork team right now, one without much of an identity. They've got some interesting pieces, particularly Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. Vesely should slide in easily, even though he's still unrefined. He can play either forward slot, and has a lot he can do from mid-range offensively. The Heat's big three they ain't, but Evans, Cousins, and Vesely could definitely guide the Kings back into the playoff hunt.
  8. The Detroit Pistons select Bismack Biyombo, forward from the Congo. Detroit allowed the highest field goal percentage in basketball last year, which is simply unacceptable from the way this franchise has won titles in the past. Biyombo is one of the mysteries of this year's draft, but the physical tools are there to be a defensive force immediately, and a defensive superstar soon enough. There's risk, sure, but there's reward as well.
  9. The Charlotte Bobcats select Kemba Walker, guard from the University of Connecticut. Charlotte is paltry up front, but two things prompt them taking Walker in my estimation. First, he's the best player on the board by a good margin. Second, the word is that Charlotte would like to get someone who can contribute right away, which jives with my assessment of Michael Jordan's preferences. Which are wholly speculative, of course, but as good a guess as anybody's.
  10. The Milwaukee Bucks select Alec Burks, guard from the University of Colorado. Apparently the Bucks cooled on Brandon Jennings pretty quickly, as he's now been the subject of trade rumors. I think Burks is a good fit for the team either way. He's a slasher guard who can make his own shot. There are concerns about his ability to hit jumpers, but some good old-fashioned practice should take care of that.
  11. The Golden State Warriors select Klay Thompson, guard from Washington State University. Golden State's top two scorers from last season were Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis, their starting backcourt. So why would they draft another two guard? Well first, Thompson would be a nice complement to either Curry or Ellis, making both expendable if needed. The Warriors could really use a center, but they're better off trying to get one via trade at this draft position.
  12. The Utah Jazz select Jimmer Fredette, guard from Brigham Young University. Honestly, when I started putting this together, I thought the Knight pick at #3 would preclude Fredette going to Utah here. But the reality is that Utah's most glaring need is scoring punch, and if Fredette has shown one thing, it's a knack for putting the ball in the bucket. Utah's best move might be to simply go with a small lineup and try to play Suns-style basketball, running and gunning. Could be fun to watch.
  13. The Phoenix Suns select Tristan Thompson, forward from the University of Texas. Kind of a coup for the Suns to land Thompson, who's more like a top 10 talent in this year's draft. He's a do-everything forward, but in a good Jeff Green way, not a bad Joe Alexander way. He might not project to be a superstar, but I'd be pretty shocked if he wasn't still an effective NBA player in ten years. His character and ability should make him a lifer.
  14. The Houston Rockets select Nikola Vucevic, center from the University of Southern California. The Rockets are a mess. They have needs basically across the board, and since there's no lightning in a bottle at this point in the draft, I think they'll go with the most projectable guy out there. Vucevic played three years of college ball, improving each year, and becoming a very good scorer and rebounder by his junior season. He's not Dirk, but he's got a good shooting touch and can help any team. It's a start.
The Wizards pick again at 18, which will probably be the last pick I watch live. The draft is basically a crapshoot after #9 (and Valanciunas could fall back into that area as well), but one guy I'd like to see Washington take with their second pick would be Jeremy Tyler. He's got size, athleticism, and skill, but is utterly lacking in maturity. My dream scenario would have the Wizards acquiring Shane Battier, and letting Battier groom Tyler. But that's probably just that: a dream.

Good luck to all the teams in the lottery, and here's hoping that the Wizards are a winner on draft night. And also that there are lots of trades. Big ones.

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