Thursday, May 23, 2013

Timberwolves and NBA Mock Draft

Well, the T-Wolves managed for the 24th consecutive year to NOT improve their position in the NBA draft. Let's hope that that does NOT indicate that they're going to have a normal T-Wolves draft in the more important respect. That is, that they are NOT going to make some pick that quickly comes to be seen as an obvious faux pas, a lå Ndudi Ebi and Wes Johnson and Jonny Flynn and...and...and....

Toward that end, I'm here to help the T-Wolves and Flip Saunders make the right selection. Yeah, right. I'm the guy who suggested Wes Johnson a couple years ago, I admit it. If this was easy, then David Kahn could have done it. But it's not easy, not at all. But here is how the 2013 draft should go.

1. Cleveland. Those lucky Cavs. Only the 3rd worst team in the NBA but now proud owners of the 1st choice in the 2013 draft. Too bad 2013 looks like a historically weak and terrible draft. And, why not? How the hell do you know if Joe Blow can play in the NBA at the age of 19? It's like colleges recruiting 8th graders. You don't have a clue who's got the best future ahead at a point like that. But it's a free market and if 19 year olds want to play pro ball, who can tell 'em, No? The kids win, the teams lose. It's hard to argue against logic like that.

So anyway, Cleveland. They're not the worst team in the NBA, so they can actually draft to need. They've got a great young point guard in Kyrie Irving and couple of passable bigs in Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson. They have Dion Waiters at the shooting guard. So what they need is a classic 3. Well, sorry, the "best available athlete"is either a 5 or a 2. What to do, what to do?

I say, well, 1st, I don't like Nerlens Noel. And Ben McLemore, well, everybody says he has the most upside, but he's also a little bit passive and is a big risk. So, I say, pick to your need, since the guy universally regarded as the #3 pick fits your need, and he's a guy with virtually no downside. He may never be as good as McLemore, but he will not blow up in your face. The pick is Otto Porter, Georgetown, 6-9, small forward, who people compare to Tayshaun Prince. If you're going to live to regret this pick, regret pickin' the guy who you thought might have helped you right away, rather than some guy who's going to come into his own after Kyrie Irving has already passed his prime.

2. Orlando. OK, now Orlando, unlike Cleveland, really is the worst team in the NBA. Their best players are Aron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson and, I don't know, who? Nikola Vucevic? Tobias Harris? Let's be honest. It doesn't matter. This is a team where you would replace their best player if you had a lottery draft pick and that was the best player available. So, who is the best player available? Again, it comes down to Noel or McLemore. I'm not that high on either one, but #4 is not an option. So I would go with Nerlens Noel, Kentucky, 6-11, power forward-center. He gives you a credible defensive presence. Who would give you as much of an assurance of an offensive presence? If there is anybody out there, by all means, pick 'im. But, I think, there's not.

3. Washington. Another horrible team that needs to start just by adding 1 credible professional, don't care what position he plays. McLemore, Oladipo or Bennett? Bennett, Oladipo or McLemore. But their 2 best players are guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. You still want to pick a guard? But, hey, Tony Bennett is a big stretch at 3 except, I suppose, in that city by the bay. So it says here that Ben McLemore, Kansas, 6-5, shooting guard, doesn't fall any farther than this.

4. Charlotte. And I guess they're the Hornets, again? Oh, joy. Conjuring up images of those powerhouse Charlotte Hornets of the past. And being the 2nd worst team in the NBA last year and getting the 4th draft pick? How's that Hornets thing workin' for ya?

But, seriously, like Cleveland a year or 2 ago, they at least have the 1st piece, that being a 1, and that being Kemba Walker. Then there's Gerald Henderson, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon, all sharing the 2. But the front court? Oy vey. So if the "best available athlete" is Oladipo, Bennett or Trey Burke, you go with the guy who can play in the front court, right? I mean, unless 1 of these other guys is Michael Jordan. But, you know what? He's not. So it's Anthony Bennett, UNLV, 6-7, power forward. Though at 6-7 and with an injury history, ya gotta wonder if that's the best that can be done at #4. And yet, Cody Zeller or Alex Len or Kelly Olynyk look like big stretches up here. So the newly re-christened Hornets will leave their heart with Tony Bennett.

5. Phoenix. With the demise of Steve Nash, everybody is waiting for the Suns to pick a point guard. And, as it happens, there's 1 lurking. But, seriously, the Suns' best player is a point guard. Goran Dragic. Surely you've heard of him. 15 ppg, 44 percent shooting, 7 assists, 3 turnovers. So who says Phoenix has to take a 1?

OK, but seriously, if Goran Dragic is your best player, you are not going to make the playoffs. But, again, you can make your best player be somebody better than Goran Dragic while replacing your 4th or 5th best player instead of your best 1, can't you. And that means Victor Oladipo, Indiana, 6-4, shooting guard, rather than his teammate Cody Zeller or Big 10 rival Trey Burke of Michigan . But, wait, seriously, Oladipo has more upside than Trey Burke? No, I didn't think so. But he also has much less downside, and he fits the need. So there you have it.

6. New Orleans. The Pelican briefs are another of those teams that would be happy to replace their best player if they could. Considering that would be Eric Gordon, they won't have the opportunity. The "best available athlete," depending on whether you like upside or the absence of downside, would have to be Michael Carter-Williams (a 6-6 point guard!?) or Cody Zeller. But in between there, with less downside that CW and more upside than Cody Zeller, you've got Trey Burke, Michigan, 6-1, point guard, and there are those in N'Awlins who see Burke as the next Chris Paul, or at least the next Kemba Walker. At a minimum he can upgrade the position over Greivis Vasquez.

7. Sacramento. I mean, Seattle. I mean, Sacramento. With Tyreke Evans, John Salmons and Isaiah Thomas, the Kings need some inside help a lot more than perimeter. At #7, that means Cody Zeller, Indiana, 6-11, power forward, who can help DeMarcus Cousins in the paint. Some people see the next LaMarcus Aldridge. Others wonder what they're smokin' but that's another conversation.

8. Detroit. After moving Tayshaun Prince, a forward would be an obvious need. Unfortunately, the 8th pick comes at a time when forwards are in short supply. The"best available athlete" looks like C.J. McCollum, Lehigh, 6-3, combo guard. So the Pistons will grab him, as they should. Maybe than can move a guard--whether Jose Calderon or Brandon Knight or Rodney Stuckey--for a bigger athlete.

9. Minnesota. Finally, the pick you've been waiting for. The conventional wisdom would be that the Wolves need a guard. I mean, their top 3 scorers last year on a ppg basis were Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and AK 47. But forget convention. You've already got a stretch 4 who is gonna hit a half dozen 3s for every dunk, and a 6-5 point guard from Mars. But, of course, there's no guarantee that the post from Jupiter is going to be back. What to do? Go unconventional some more. Pick Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse, 6-6, point guard. Put him out there with Rubio and dare his teammates to keep up. Especially if coach Rick Adelman comes back, he can figure out a scheme to make use of another unconventional talent. Of course, after Flynn and Johnson, the Wolves might be  reluctant to pick another Syracuse player, and who could blame 'em?

10. Portland. The 'Blazers would seem to need somebody to help LaMarcus Aldridge inside. The only question is whether that would be Alex Len or Kelly Olynyk. Again, it's convention vs. un-convention, and upside vs. the lack of downside. I see Olynyk, for the record, as being unconventional and the bigger risk. So the team that took Damian Lillard last year (who?) can be counted on to take Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga, 7-0, post, this time.

11. Philadelphia. Doh. Another team that needs some size and Alex Len, Maryland, 7-1, post, is right there for the taking. Philly has no reason not to take.

12. Oklahoma City. Aside from somebody who can keep Russell Westbrook healthy and in the lineup, the Thunderous ones would seem to need some size. Unfortunately, the size has all been consumed (Olynyk, Len) in this part of the draft. So why not just go with your strength. Another scorer. Shabazz Muhummad, UCLA, 6-6, small forward. Very unconventional.

13. Dallas. Don't get me wrong. The Mavs ain't bad. But they are ancient. So "best available athlete" would pretty much sum it up, and Dennis Schroeder, Braunschweig (Germany), 6-2, point guard looks to fill the bill. He would be a huge upgrade over Darren Collison and Mike James.

14. Utah. Another team that isn't bad, and yet they don't have anybody that's untouchable. "Best available" would seem to be Sergey Karasev, Triumph (Russia), 6-8, small forward. 

15. Milwaukee. This would seem to be a club that could use a little size to go with guards Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. Some people like Rudy Gobert, but I'm not among them and I don't think the Milwaukee Bucks would miss something that is obvious even to me. So I think the Bucks go for Mason Plumlee, Duke, 6-11, power forward. There's not a tremendous lot of upside, but there's fairly little downside. What you see is what you get.

16. Boston. Another ancient team that can just as well grab the "best available" and start reducing the minutes of guys like Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce. "Best available" here is clearly Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia, 6-5, shooting guard.

17-18. Atlanta. A guy who can score would be good, followed by another guy who can score, or else a post. Gobert might be tempting here but Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State, 6-5, shooting guard is better. And then even just among the posts Gorgui Dieng, Louisville, 6-10, post might be a better choice. The pickin's are gettin' a little thin out here.

19. Cleveland. Having filled its greatest need, now's the time for the "best available." That would be Dario Saric, Cibona Zagreb, 6-10, power forward.

20. Chicago. A new athletic guard to run with Derrick Rose next year would be good, though it's true that you might have to reach a little right here. Still, Allen Crabbe, California, 6-6, shooting guard, is probably a reasonable risk.

21. Utah. I picked a small forward for them with their 1st pick. Now they could really use a guard, but there aren't many to choose from. Shane Larkin at 5-11? Not my cup of tea. Tim Hardaway? No. Maybe Erick Green of Virginia Tech. But still a reach. So let's go big. No, not Gobert, but Steven Adams, Pittsburgh, 7-0, center.

22. New York Nets. The truth is you're unlikely to upgrade anything at #22, but the Nets could hope to do so at the power forward spot. They could hope, but they wouldn't and couldn't accomplish it. Not that there aren't some power forwards out there, but they're projects, guys who probably won't contribute for 3-4 years. Still, Lucas Nogueira, Brazil, 7-0, power forward, is an intriguing talent and as good as you're gonna do at #22.

23. Indiana. How to get over the top, to compete with LeBron and Dwayne? Probably can't be done in the draft. But Shane Larkin, Miami Fla., 5-11, point guard, is about as ready to contribute as anybody. The upside is limited by his size, among other things, but he could play some minutes next year and add a little quickness to the Pacers bag of tricks.

24. New York Knicks. How to get over the top, to compete with Indiana? Size, size and more size would be nice. But, unfortunately, most of the size that's still available and projected to the 1st or early 2nd round is soft size. DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State, 6-7, combo forward, is undersized to be sure, but has the toughness to play inside, which is more than you can say for some of the 7-footers.

25. Los Angeles Clippers. How to get over the top...? The Clips also need size to complement Blake Griffin inside, and as we've already pointed out, the big guys who remain are a reach. But if you're gonna reach, reach for an old hand who's ready to go. That would be Jeff Withey, Kansas, 7-0, center.

26. Minnesota. Having added some size on the perimeter, the Wolves also will now be looking for size inside, and as we've already pointed out.... So Tony Mitchell, North Texas, 6-9, combo forward, is a bit of a reach in the sense that, while he's 6-9, he's probably a better fit out on the wing. But he's the best there is at this point.

27. Denver. How to get over the top...? Perimeter oriented in the extreme, Denver really needs some size. But finally you have to say, it ain't gonna happen. No more reaching for size. Best guy standing is Tony Snell, New Mexico, 6-7, small forward.

28. San Antonio. Here's a team that really can just take the best guy standing and at this point it's somebody with Michigan genes, either Tim Hardaway, Jr., or Glen Rice, Jr. I guess I prefer Glen Rice, Jr., NBA D-League, 6-5, swing man. 

29. Oklahoma City. Ditto. I mean, having picked Shabazz Muhammad at #12, I guess size would be nice, but we've talked about that. So, now, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Michigan, 6-6, swing man.

30. Phoenix. Having picked Victor Oladipo previously, again, size would be nice. So who has more downside, Rudy Gobert or Giannis Antetekuompo? Both have some upside, physically. Gobert has been projected into the lottery by some. But neither has really done a damn thing with all those physical gifts yet, and frankly I don't think either one will. But somebody will find 1 of them irresistible, and I suppose that would be Rudy Gobert, France, 7-2, center. Best case, he'll be ready to contribute in 2018.

So, all in all, this is indeed a weak draft, and not many teams will be better next year because of the draft.

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