Home > Essays > Essay: Grading The 2011 NBA Draft

Essay: Grading The 2011 NBA Draft

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Besides the fact that it’s possibly the last official NBA related event we see for a while, the draft came and went with little fanfare  Major downer. Here’s a list of its intuitive winners (despite this year’s crop lacking any momentous cream, there were a few), and lovable losers. I’ve also analyzed a few consequential moves that can best be described as polarizing to the given team’s fan base. We’ll label them, Most Intriguing.

Winners

Charlotte Bobcats: Charlotte played the shrewd role in a three team deal that allowed them to get rid of Stephen Jackson AND move up from 19 to seven. With that pick they selected Bismack Biyombo, the type of player who can come in, immediately fill his role on the defensive end, and help shape a team’s newly forming identity. Great pick.

Charlotte also had the ninth pick, becoming one of two teams (Cleveland being the other) with two choices in the top 10. With it they took Kemba Walker, a player who could someday become a slightly shorter version of Ben Gordon. D.J. Augustine wasn’t the long term answer as a starting point guard; demoting him behind Kemba is a solid move.

They also acquired Corey Maggette, someone who isn’t synonymous with basketball related triumph, but swapping him and his contract for Stephen Jackson (a consistent distraction) allows the young kids to grow and develop at a normal pace. What it also does, and Jeff Van Gundy did a great job pointing this out during the draft, is allow Charlotte to distance themselves from mediocrity (the most hopeless stage for an NBA franchise) and drift towards the league’s cellar, enabling them to strategically rebuild under new GM Rich Cho, a salary cap savant. Just a great performance all the way around.

Side Note: Last February’s Gerald Wallace deal looks so ironic for Cho right now. It helped him in Portland, where the Blazers played eventual champion Dallas tougher than any other team, and it helped him in Charlotte, where if the deal was never done and Wallace had stayed, Cho wouldn’t have a head start in the rebuilding process. It’s almost like Rich Cho can see the future. Good call by Paul Allen.

Toronto Raptors: The Raptors used their first and only draft pick on Jonas Valenciunas, a 19-year-old center who most likely won’t cross the pond for at least another year. By selecting a foreign big man project and passing on hopeful point guards like Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo announced his team was heading in a new direction.

So, why should anybody care? Well, the immediate domino effect with the selection puts former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani officially on the market. (Not that he wasn’t before, but now he’s super available.) This makes Toronto a winner, and could do the same for whomever chooses to go after the Italian Stallion. It’s clear Bargnani can’t be a franchise player, but he can certainly be a second or third scoring option for a champion. What if he goes to Chicago and becomes another Toni Kukoc? Or a secondary option in New Jersey, New Orleans, or Indiana? That’s the best role for him.

Washington Wizards: It was thought heading into this draft that no team could walk away altering its future in any substantial way. Tune ups could be made by adding a nice, solid role player, but nobody was walking away with a brand new car. By taking a high flying human highlight reel from Europe, one of college basketball’s most rigid (and underrated) point guards, and the best defensive swingman in the field, Washington didn’t attain a new ride, but they far and away came closest.

Out of Jan Vesely, Shelvin Mack, and Chris Singleton, selecting Mack in the second round just seems like the most satisfied move. He’s a smart, tough, team first basketball player who should fit nicely as John Wall’s backup. On a team which boasts Nick Young and Jordan Crawford (one of the two is probably on the move) in its backcourt—two players who won’t stop shooting until a teammate punches them in the face—inserting Mack as the heady decision maker on a young group should really move along the second unit.

Singleton comes in as an NBA ready defender and Vesely, well who knows about Vesely. He could become John Wall’s best friend (with no real partner in the open court, Wall was forced to run a one man fast break last season. He took some serious physical punishment for it) or he could become the team’s second Yi. I like the first option.

Losers

Portland Trailblazers: The point guard swap was bad. Maybe it’s because Andre Miller’s convinced me he’s playing at a solid level until the age of 43. Or maybe it’s because Ray Felton’s never sat at the steering wheel of a legitimate playoff team (and should accept a role somewhere as a fantastic backup point guard). Portland also replaced Rudy Fernandez with Nolan Smith, so yea. Not sure that’s what you want right there.

Eric Maynor: With the 24th pick, the Oklahoma City Thunder selected Boston College point guard Reggie Jackson, who heading into the night was widely regarded as the most mysterious prospect in a class defined by mystery; he refused to interview or work out for any teams. Now it’s been reported that Reggie Jackson isn’t a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a riddle after all. The Thunder just really liked him, and didn’t want to share what they knew with everybody else. Interesting move.

This means Sam Presti was dead set on the kid, knowing what he wanted for quite a while now. It also means the Thunder have fallen out of love with Eric Maynor, a bright, young, perennial back up point guard who will now be shipped off and away from his buddies in Oklahoma City. To be a member of the Thunder is to be apart of a movement. They’re like a really cool club, high up in their own little tree house, peaking down at everybody else. It’s likely they could ransack the league for the next 10 years, and to be replaced just as the goings getting good must sting pretty bad.

Trades:

Dear Lockout,

Thanks for ruining everything, again.

Love,

Mike

Josh Smith is still on the Hawks. Andre Iguodala is still on the 76ers. Monta Ellis is still on the Warriors. Andrew Bynum is still on the Lakers. Steve Nash is still on the Suns. Tony Parker is still on the Spurs. The Minnesota Timberwolves kept the No. 2 pick. In order for this draft to stick out in a historical context, it needed a big time trade. Instead, we had Corey Maggette, John Salmons, and Stephen Jackson (all the same player, making the same money) swap teams; the Pacers attainment of yet another borderline starting point guard, and David Khan repeatedly embarrassing himself by trading out of the first round and moving Jonny Flynn for a big pile of nothing (aka the highly coveted veteran presence that is Brad Miller). Nobody pulled the trigger on a headlining deal, but hopefully some feelers were placed and something big gets done in the days ahead.

Most Intriguing (But Probably Losers)

Golden State Warriors: The Warriors took Klay Thompson, who by all accounts will have a solid to good professional career. But in doing so, they’ve pushed Monta Ellis out the door. Revisiting the Iguodala for Ellis rumor for a second, if the Warriors had taken Singleton, a poor man’s Iggy who comes with a much cheaper price tag, they could keep Ellis and Curry in the backcourt, move Dorell Wright back to the bench, start Singleton at the three, and hope/pray Udoh, Biedrins, and Lee have stupendous years. That’s not a bad option.

Instead the Warriors have Thompson, a shooting guard who without playing a single game is already more efficient than Ellis yet not nearly as dynamic or capable of scoring on his own. It now means the Warriors have to make that deal with Philly and take on Iguodala’s contract, which could make them a better team—especially on defense—but they’ll be losing a dominant scoring presence. I guess what this boils down to is a simple question: Do you believe a team whose leading scorer is Monta Ellis can win a championship? After paying him the type of money which would suggest a confident yes to be the answer, apparently the Warriors have changed their mind.

Side Note: Elsewhere, the Warriors took a flier on Jeremy Tyler and were fortunate enough to have Charles Jenkins fall in their lap. Both were wonderful, exciting selections that could reap major benefits down the line (Tyler) and help in the immediate future (Jenkins). Overall, not too shabby.

New York Knicks: I wrote in depth about the Knicks draft over on Buckets Over Broadway, so I won’t get too into it here, but drafting Iman Shumpert could go either way. Maybe he becomes a lock down defender able to play both backcourt positions, maybe he flails around like Balkman and can’t take New York’s pressure. The pick can be rationalized in a basketball sense, but why the Knicks put themselves in such a risky position when other, more sure players were available, cannot.

George Hill/Kawhi Leonard Trade: The thinking here says that if San Antonio was willing to trade a player Gregg Popovich once said was his favorite, then they REALLY LOVE the freakishly athletic Kawhi Leonard. Next to Klay Thompson, he seems like the most sure thing in the entire class. So here’s my take on Indiana’s end: Why did the Pacers move Leonard in the first place? His grinding work ethic and acceptance to be the team’s new do-it-all handy man would fit perfectly in Indiana. If George Hill is made the starter, excels with an increase in both minutes and responsibility, and Darren Collison is able to accept his new bench role as lightning in a bottle, then Indiana may have struck gold. But keeping Leonard, and at the very least using him as a valuable asset down the line, might’ve been the smarter play. Banking on George Hill to emerge as a point guard phenom defines rolling the dice.

What this means for San Antonio: If Leonard can come in and crack the starting lineup over Richard Jefferson, they just got a whole lot younger and 30 times as athletic. Combined with a healthy Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan, Leonard could be talented enough to give the Spurs another shot at a title. Unfortunately, by losing Hill their backup point guard situation got real messy. The Spurs drafted Cory Joseph with their first round pick, but most draft experts believed the freshman should’ve stayed at Texas at least one more year. Now that Hill’s gone, Joseph’s the sole backup to Tony Parker, and that’s extremely shaky. If San Antonio had made a move on somebody like Jonny Flynn, they’d be in much better shape here.

Categories: Essays
  1. Footie
    June 27, 2011 at 12:29 am | #1

    Pina,

    TFoote here. Haven’t read a lot of your stuff, but I like what I’ve seen so far. Just a note re: Vesely: I saw him play a year and a half ago while on vacation in Belgrade. Kid can friggin’ ball. I–who know nothing about pro basketball scouting methods or what have you–immediately pegged him as the best player on the court, and came back to the States raving about this lanky Czech kid who could run the floor, jump out of the building, get to the rim at will, and even knock down jumpers. He will be a success in the NBA–I bank all on my creditability (of which, admittedly, I have none) on it.

    All the best.

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