Posted by: mdegeorge | June 23, 2011

A weak Draft blowing out of Newark tonight

The ping pong balls have barely stopped fluttering in the condensed air and the suits for the green room occupants have yet to be pressed. But even before NBA Commissioner David Stern drawls out his New York accent to announce the first pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the underwhelming nature of the prospects is, well, overwhelming.

In a decade’s time, the 2011 Draft has the potential to go down in history in one of the worst draft classes ever to walk the draft stage. That sense of foreboding has little to do with the impending labor controversy the league is sure to be plunged into but rather rests solely on the entirely mediocre quality of the players involved.

Czech forward Jan Vesely. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

This is not a draft where many teams are going to find all-stars. It may not even be a draft where organizations find suitable pieces to fill those needs, with the exception of a select few teams at the very top – where talent is high – or teams at the bottom of the draft – where needs are low and needs can specifically be plugged.

There’s no more poignant indication of the low value of draft picks than the rampant desire with which teams seem to be shopping them. A shocking plethora of names like Steve Nash, Monta Ellis, Tony Parker, even Kevin Love could be available since the draft picks are worth more for most teams in another team’s hands. It’s entirely possible that outside of the top 4 picks, Parker and/or Nash will give teams more value over the rest of their careers – Parker is 29 with a history of injuries and Nash is 37 – than some of the rookies available in the Draft.

There are plenty of players with great upsides in this draft; some of them have pretty high ceilings as to what they can accomplish at the next level. But there are very few complete players. What are in abundance instead are a glut of excellent physical specimens who either need work or have skills that don’t translate to the next level. This is a draft largely devoid of any can’t miss players.

There is quality at the top. Kyrie Irving is the consensus number 1 for Cleveland, which would make him just the fifth point guard in the last 35 years to go first overall but the third in the last four drafts. But Irving isn’t as far and away superior to the rest of the field as those other two, Derrick Rose and John Wall. All three departed from college after a single season, but Irving spent most of his freshman campaign on the bench with a foot injury. Even with the limited experience, Irving does have a lot of upside, even if he doesn’t appear to possess the on-court gifts of Wall or Rose.

Behind Irving is Arizona’s Derrick Williams, who could be among the most polished players in this draft. He, like other likely top 3 pick Enes Kanter, has a big body with enough skill, shooting range and ability to get to the hoop to be enticing, but I still have doubts about their adjustment to the NBA.

That’s the recurring theme in the first round. Kawhi Leonard doesn’t appear to have what it takes to be any more than a serviceable player, though he’ll likely go in the top 5 picks. Doubts exist as to Kemba Walker’s size and Jimmer Fredette’s everything. Then there are some guys with intriguing bodies like Tristan Thompson or the Morris twins that may end up as inbetweeners whose game doesn’t translate well to any of the NBA ideals.

There are also good college players, the type that simply don’t translate well to the next level but are picked under the guise of, “well, he got it done in college; he’ll figure out how to do it with us.” Fredette, Nolan Smith, Marshon Brooks, Kenneth Faried and JaJuan Johnson all fit that role. Teams can at best expect guys for their rotation off the bench from this grouping.

Then there are downright jokes in the first round. The top shooting guard off the board will probably be Washington State’s Klay Thompson, no relation to Tristan, who is a poor man’s Kyle Weaver, now a spare with Utah after just three years in the league. I’m still befuddled by the first-round presence of Nikola Vucevic, who if he’s the same person I watched play at USC for years, isn’t exactly a steal late in the first round.

That brings us to the age-old international question, burning particularly bright with as many as seven international players slated to go in the first round. The unifying theme of them all, you might imagine, is size.

But of all the giants who’ve come out of Europe in recent years, how many have actually become impact centers as some of these guys allegedly project to be? I can think of only one – Pau Gasol – and a bunch of other serviceable bigs such as Nenad Kristic and Zaza Pachulia. There have been plenty of excellent players out of Europe who’ve gravitated toward a more perimeter-oriented game, and the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Danilo Gallinari, Andrea Bargnani, Mehmet Okur, Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu are much more like what we think of when we look at potential European imports.

Many in this draft appear to be in that mold. Jan Vesely of the Czech Republic is an intriguing scorer and possible rangy wing player, though he lacks bulk. Donatas Motiejunas and Nikola Mirotic appear to of that perimeter ilk as well.

But the major warning signs come out for big men that profess an ability to play in the paint in the NBA. That applies especially to Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo. The comparisons to guys like Maciej Lampe, Yaroslav Korloev, Oleg Pecherov, Hasheem Thabeet and other big-time busts is just too compelling to spend a lottery pick.

There is potential from this draft thanks to very physically gifted guys with big upsides. But it’s a proverbial minefield out there. The only advantage to a talent pool this shallow is that teams are aware of the draft’s shortcomings. Expecting to find a franchise savior out of this lot is only going to lead to ruin – and a lot more high draft picks. Trying to plug a few holes in your top 8 spots though might prove possible with some good player development.

In that respect, it could turn out to be a rich-get-richer type draft, where the teams with the worst records end up busting on their lottery picks while teams like the Spurs, Celtics or Thunder who are just one piece away pick up that serviceable if not spectacular prospect that can add to their depth.


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