Consider this the slow season of sports. Basketball and hockey have ended, football seasons are still a few months away and baseball is entering the dog days of Summer. And in a summer void of much international soccer or Olympics, headlines are going to be tough to come by in the sports world. I’ll take a look at some free agent news later this week. But for now, lets focus on the draft.
Lets not sugarcoat it, this is among the weekest draft classes in recent memory. I don’t think there’s been a consensus top pick like Blake Griffin since LeBron James in 2003. But where will the chips fall on June 20th after the Clippers take Griffin? Here’s what I see going down.
1. Los Angeles Clippers – Blake Griffin, Oklahoma. The Clippers would appear to have the best frontcourt of any team in the draft lottery with Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman and Zach Randolph. However, the first two are made of glass and Randolph has never made a team better. So Griffin is the no-brainer pick. Expect at least one of the veterans to be moved to make room for Griffin, an incredibly athletic big man and dominant rebounder. I’d keep Camby around to help teach Griffin the ropes on the defensive end.
2. Memphis Grizzlies – Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut. Here’s where it gets interesting. If I’m the Grizzlies, I look at what young point guards like Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose have done for their respective franchises, and take Spain’s Ricky Rubio. Memphis has had Spanish players like los hermanos de Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro. But Navarro was not a fan of playing in Memphis and returned to Spain after just two seasons. Rubio appears to be hesitant playing here as well. Thabeet strikes me as a guy with great bust potential. His offensive game is raw and while his block numbers were impressive, he was often pushed around by other strong big men in the Big East. Just watch tape of him against DeJuan Blair. He was absolutely dominated. Teams love trying to get those franchise centers, though. I think they’ll take Thabeet.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder – James Harden, Arizona State. In a word, smooth. Harden’s left handed stroke is NBA ready. His athleticism isn’t great, but he strikes me as a guy that’s going to be a real steady NBA player. He’s a bit undersized at 6’5, but I think he’d do fine as a shooting guard in the league. Ricky Rubio is a tempting pick here, but the Thunder are confident in Russell Westbrook. Pairing Harden up with Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Jeff Green will make the Thunder’s young nucleus even more impressive.
4. Sacramento Kings – Ricky Rubio, Spain. Rubio is already receiving lots of labels from people around the league, including fellow lottery pick Brandon Jennings, who recently called him overrated. Well, Rubio is only 18-years-old so he’s still got a ways to go. But his court vision and passing ability in the open court are incredible. The jump shot needs work, but the young Spaniard would be a nice point guard to help rebuild the franchise. The Kings need lots of work and were unlucky to end up picking fourth, but Rubio would be a nice consolation prize.
5. Washington Wizards – Jordan Hill, Arizona. Probably the pick that stumps me the most. With Gilbert Arenas projected to be healthy at the beginning of the year, it really eliminates the need for the Wizards to get one of the young guards in this draft like Stephen Curry or Tyreke Evans. I like Hill a lot more than Thabeet because his offensive game is much more polished at this point. But Thabeet has about five inches on Hill, making it unlikely that the Arizona big man would go 2nd overall.
(Yes, I realize my top five mirrors NBAdraft.net. Bear with me.)
6. Minnesota Timberwolves – Jrue Holliday, UCLA. The Wolves’ front court is in good hands with Al Jefferson and last year’s lottery pick, Kevin Love. I got Minnesota taking another Bruin here in Holliday because of their need for a true point guard. Tyreke Evans and Demar DeRozan are both combo guards, something the Wolves already have in 6’4 Randy Foye. Look for a point guard at this pick and maybe an athletic wing player later in the draft. The Wolves have a bundle of draft picks from both the Kevin Garnett and Ricky Davis trades.
7. Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry, Davidson. Sorry, New York. I know Curry has been linked with the Knicks since he declared himself eligible for the draft. But the Knicks are unlucky because Curry seems like the type of player that will explode in Don Nelson’s run-and-gun system. I’ve always likened Curry’s NBA game to Monta Ellis’, so it’s a bit ironic that they may be sharing the backcourt. Curry has a year under his belt at point guard and, at 6’3, is better fit there than the 2.
8. New York Knicks – Tyreke Evans, Memphis. I’m basing this mock draft on needs more than potential draft day trades. There’s lots of rumors circulating that Celtics GM Danny Ainge loves Evans, and could even move Ray Allen’s massive contract to try and acquire him. But provided that doesn’t happen, I think Evans can wind up in the Big Apple. The Knicks obviously want Stephen Curry (and vice-versa) and may be forced to trade up in order to get him. But if not, I think they’d take Evans before DeRozan, Jennings or Jonny Flynn.
9. Toronto Raptors – Brandon Jennings, Lottomatica Roma. Jennings has been in the headlines plenty in the last year, from skipping out on Arizona to hone his game in Europe to criticizing Ricky Rubio on his Twitter. Jennings can back up point guard Jose Calderon, whose injury derailed an otherwise promising season for the Raptors. Some players balk at playing north of the border, but Jennings’ willingness to Europe indicates that he’ll have no problem with the move.
10. Milwaukee Bucks – Jonny Flynn, Syracuse. There’s a chance Ramon Sessions could be playing elsewhere in 2009-10. The Bucks have to be ready in case that happens. Flynn could go anywhere from 7th to 12th, so putting him at 10th is safe and sensible. His 17 points and 7 assists at ‘Cuse show that not only is he a gifted scorer, but unselfish as well. Not a bad complement to Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson and young Joe Alexander.