Well another NBA Draft has come and gone, leaving us with only summer leagues (of the AAU and college varieties) along with the recruiting and returning rumors that come with them (i.e. "so and so has really come into his own playing a glorified pick-up game where his total lack of effort on the defensive end was neutralized"). This isn’t to say there’s not valuable information that floats around, but I think in our desperate lust of basketball information we often look too far into these performances.
But before closing the door on college and professional basketball for the near future, I wanted to take a look at last night’s draft. According to ESPN PR man Josh Krulewitz, last night’s draft was this highest rated since 2007. In some ways this is surprising, as most considered last night’s draft a pretty big bust, but the biggest markets were Cleveland (who was hoping this draft could start a major rebuilding process with the first and fourth picks) and Salt Lake (the Jimmer strikes again). TV ratings aside, I thought the draft was uneventful but still interesting in its own right.
First, I think the lockout played a HUGE role in the draft. I’m decidedly not an expert on these things, but there’s no doubt in my mind the reason we saw so many young talented Europeans taken so high was because of the upcoming lockout. With uncertainty clouding next year’s outlook, it makes sense that GM’s were interested in getting draft rights to players who would be ready in two or three years (after their current contracts in Europe were up), instead of passing out guaranteed contracts to guys who won’t have summer league to help get them ready for next season (if next season is even a whole season). This is in no way a knock on any of the seven European players chosen in the first round, as I’m woefully unqualified to assess their skills. I’m only pointing out that the reasons European players generally play a less substantial role in drafts of the past is because most can’t come over and play immediately.
Next week, we’ll have individual posts for the individual Big 12 alumni (if you can call rising sophomores and juniors alumni), so this is a much more broad-stroke look at the big picture from the draft.
As everyone knows by now, the Cavs took Duke’s Kyrie Irving with the first pick (Elton Brand was the last Duke alumnus to go first overall). I think this pick shows that Cleveland truly believed Irving is the best player available, as the Cavs already have a talented (albeit overpaid) veteran point guard in Baron Davis and need major help inside (which would have been provided by Enes Kanter or Derrick Williams). I also agree wholeheartedly with SI’s Andy Glockner, who tweeted "Kyrie Irving’s prospects as an NBA player are being much understated in the lead-up to the draft." This isn’t to say that Irving is going to be the next Chris Paul, but he’s got a tremendous amount of upside to go with a similar skill set to Paul (not nearly the playmaker, but a better shooter than Paul was out of Wake Forest). I know we only saw Irving for eleven games, but he’s got a lot of potential and a lot of that early draft analysis seemed very content to say there aren’t any future All-Stars in this draft when it would’ve been much more accurate to say that there are three excellent players (Irving, Williams and Kanter) and many more very good players.
Moving on down the picks, I don’t think anyone was surprised by Williams second and Kanter third. Both of those men are ready to play in the NBA right now. Both are very strong and have skills that will translate well at the next level (Williams’ shooting and Kanter’s post moves). After the top three players the draft got a lot more interesting.
With the fourth pick in the draft, the Cavs threw a wrench in almost every mock draft out there by taking the raw Canadien defensive stopper Tristan Thompson. As I said earlier, we’ll be doing individual looks at how each Big 12 draftee will fit into his new home later, but for now I’ll just say I was shocked that Thompson went fourth. I think he has a lot of upside, especially if the Cavs can teach him a post move or two (he’s got the dunk down: reportedly, he dunked 100 times in a row in one of his draft workouts, and yes there’s a drill where you try to dunk as many times as you can in a row)
After Thompson Valanciunas, Vesely and Biyombo were chosen. I know very little about any of these players, except Vesely and Biyombo are incredible athletes (to paraphrase Vesely, people from Europe say Blake Griffin is the Jan Vesely of the United States). I also think Biyombo should thank Serge Ibaka for giving recent credence to the idea that a very raw talent can develop skills quickly and contribute for a very good team. The two highlights from these picks came when Valanciunas said he was like Chris Bosh because "I don’t know...I have not so strong body." This might have been the funniest moment of the draft with the combination of the extremely awkward interview, shaky english, and a European player calling Chris Bosh soft. The spotlight was quickly seized when Vesely was selected and stood up to kiss his girlfriend. When I saw the clip live, I only noticed that Vesely had an attractive girlfriend. Luckily for me, ESPN replayed the clip below and I noticed that she was almost the same height as Vesely. If that had been many players, it would just mean she was moderately tall and wearing heels. But Vesely is 6’11 and she was basically his height!
The rest of the draft went downhill. There was the really awkward moment when Markieff Morris was drafted ahead of Marcus Morris, but fate and the twins’ mother saved the day by having Marcus taken with the next pick and Mrs. Morris giving a thoughtful, levelheaded interview while looking extremely proud.
As far as the two strangest first round picks (the second round had a couple of true head scratchers, namely Josh Harrelson and Ater Majok) were Cory Joseph and Iman Shumpert. I’ll focus on Shumpert here: he was an underachieving very good player on a bad team. He’s a lockdown perimeter defender, but the Knicks could have also chosen Chris Singleton--a lockdown perimeter defender who is also four inches taller than Shumpert. Neither is an offensive savant, but both were their teams first options last season. Many of my questions about Shumpert go back to last season, when he was the facilitator on a team with two elite forwards (Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal). Despite having not one but two trump cards down low, Georgia Tech struggled offensively. And it’s fine to blame coaching to some extent, but Shumpert never looked comfortable facilitating for the Yellow Jackets. Then this year he was the best offensive performer for the team (the only performer with an offensive rating over 100 according to Ken Pomeroy), but he was not good at getting his teammates involved or consistently taking good shots.
As for the best-value picks, I think Florida State’s Chris Singleton and Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried were two of the best late first round picks. Both have elite, NBA-ready skills (defense and rebounding respectively). Both were leaders on their teams last years, but seem ready to adapt to a new role in the NBA. Neither will bring much offense, but Singleton especially has the beginnings of a serviceable jumper.
Keep an eye out for more Big 12 Hoops draft coverage next week.