Essay: Analyzing The Draft
Editor’s note: For the five to ten dedicated readers who’ve missed Shaky Ankles these last few weeks…
Great. Now that that’s been covered, on with the draft grades.
I write these grades while acknowledging that there’s absolutely no way to know who will be Jack Sparrow and who will be Barnabas Collins. Probabilities are different for different guys—Anthony Davis has a 99.9999999% chance of having a “successful” career, but that isn’t 100%—but nothing can possibly set itself in stone before cement is even poured. That’s impossible. Predicting who the winners and losers are is a lot like forecasting whether or not we’ll see rain on July 4, 2013. Grading teams on the draft is a useless exercise, but unlike predicting the weather, it’s fun. Tons of fun.
Before reading any of this, please take into account that I watched very little college basketball last year. I do, however, read a ton, listen to a dangerous amount of podcasts, and occasionally drop by Youtube whenever a particular player ropes me in, so my analysis shouldn’t be discounted as ENTIRELY rubbish. Just a little bit of rubbish.
I’ve slotted winners, losers, and interesting situations based on how I see the given team’s current needs as opposed to how skilled the player selected may be, if that makes any sense. Nobody knows who will dominate and who won’t, but from where we stand this morning, value and common sense can surely be judged.
Charlotte: Heading into last night we were bombarded with rumors that the overly distraught Bobcats had yet to move past the fact that they lost the lottery. Rumor had it, the result would be them dealing away the number two pick, grabbing multiple first round, quality NBA starters in its place, and kickstarting a slow, painful rebuilding process with the help of a fresh, exciting nucleus.
Instead, they played it smart, keeping both their picks (2 and 31), and grabbing the draft’s second best player. The Bobcats kept things simple, which I love.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a player living in his own vacuum who doesn’t need a quality point guard to get baskets on offense or a big man security blanket behind him to have an impact on defense.
This is the type of player who would be welcomed by any team in the NBA. He’s a wingman who hustles, attacks in transition and on the perimeter, and only knows success. If you want to win, having someone who can slow down Kevin Durant and LeBron James is vital, and in this pick the Bobcats grabbed the best player available at filling the part.
With 31, they took Jeffery Taylor. With the 23-year-old Vanderbilt senior projected to go late in the first round, this was an incredible value pick. He plays the same position as Kidd-Gilchrist, but it’s an extremely useful one, so there’s no harm in making an overlap.
Taylor is one of the draft’s best athletes. He can finish in transition, shoot, swarm opposing ball-handlers, and end up being one of those key rotation players with unquantifiable value, a defender of four different positions throughout his four-year college career (think Shane Battier 2.0).
I know their new head coach is most interested in making them a defense-first ball club, but all Charlotte needs now is a point guard to get out in the open court, and all of a sudden defending them isn’t the easiest thing in the world.
Oklahoma City: The concerns (knee, ambition, drive) are known, but so is the tantalizing skill (Kevin Garnett without the maniacal intensity). Before last night’s draft, most scouts and analysts said they were done fussing over Perry Jones III. As a group, it seemed like they collectively came to the conclusion that his idle motor would always prioritize itself over the once-in-a-generation level ability. If Jones were a lottery pick (Kings, Warriors, Raptors, Pistons, etc.) I believe the intense expectations would crush him like a mosquito with slow reflexes. Jones would have the ball a ton, and with it, constant pressure to make plays. It’s become evident that despite possessing all that awesome basketball man power, he needed to enter the league without hype, void of pressure or any unrealistic presumptions. Lucky for him, this is exactly what happened.
What the Thunder are getting is perhaps the best athlete in the draft. He could be Josh Smith. He could be Lamar Odom. That’s scary. He’s 20-years-old, stands at 6’11” (an inch taller than Anthony Davis), and probably has nicer handle than Derek Fisher. Oklahoma City got a young freak who can help them by purely creating headaches on the defensive end. Just imagine a Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Jones, Ibaka five-man unit. By June 2013, this could be the five guys standing victorious on the court in the final game of the season. The athleticism is insane, and there’s no worry right away for Jones to do anything he’s uncomfortable doing. He’ll make smart plays and be placed in positions where he can consistently modify the game in the Thunder’s favor.
What we saw last night was the richest of teams tripping over a diamond necklace that just happened to be laying on the sidewalk.
New Orleans: This is for obvious reasons, none so much easier than the selection of Anthony Davis, a player DraftExpress.com describes as a possible mixture of Blake Griffin and Tyson Chandler. Players like Davis are the rarest of rare, big men who make everyone else around them better on defense AND offense. After adding Duke guard Austin Rivers to the fray with the 10th pick, all of a sudden the Hornets are looking at a Davis, Rivers, Eric Gordon nucleus. All three could be All-Stars in the next three years, and two of them are almost guaranteed to be annual participants.
Because of their ability to shoot from just about anywhere within 30 feet of the basket, a Rivers and Gordon backcourt creates hallucinogenic nightmares for those trying to slow them down. Expect unstoppable drive and kicks to be a huge part of their offense, on top of the copious amounts of pick and rolls each of them (more so Gordon) will run with Davis, who has the option of popping and rolling hard to the basket.
After last night’s draft, no team’s fortune changed quicker than the Hornets. They’re an obvious winner, and should have playoffs on their mind as early as next season.
Miami: Two weeks ago Miami won the title, but they didn’t do it by steamrolling the competition. For all the shock and awe that amazing and talented gave us, let’s not forget that it’s an isolated commodity. With Bosh hurt and a gimpy Wade not playing up to his normal standards, the Heat found themselves in a dog fight with the Pacers, a series they nearly lost if not for a Herculean effort from LeBron James.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, eight minutes of basketball is all that got them over a hobbled Boston Celtics (who, pending the outcomes of their own free agents, added two picks—more on them later—and will have a healthy Avery Bradley next season, aka they’re getting younger).
In the Finals, Miami’s margin of victory against Oklahoma City was much smaller than a five game series might suggest.
The point I’m making here is that everyone that matters will probably be better next season. By trading their first round pick to Philadelphia, the Heat, on the other hand, chose not to infuse more youth and athleticism into a team that could seriously use it. With full understanding of their financial situation, a draft pick could seriously have helped their cause, and I don’t think that’s up for debate.
Next season the Heat are on the books for approximately $79.3 million, which is $9 million over the probable tax line. That’s hefty. Even if the Heat amnesty Mike Miller and strip the remaining $18.6 million (money Miami’s ownership still has to pay, remember) off their salary, they still end up over the tax line. The year after that, Dexter Pittman and James Jones are the only players coming off the books, and in order to cut enough salary to nudge themselves under the tax line and avoid the possibility of paying a repeater’s tax, the Heat would have to cut ties with Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers, something I’m nearly positive they’re unwilling to do.
All this salary analysis doesn’t even take into account the unnamed free agent who Miami will likely take on via the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (starting salary: $3.09 million).
I understand draft picks that come late in the first round aren’t all that valuable because of the two-years of guaranteed money a team is giving to someone who in all honesty probably won’t play all that much to earn it, but in Miami’s case, grabbing youth should be at a premium. If you’re looking at this through the reading glasses of a gray haired economist, then sure, there’s no way you say Miami comes out of draft night a loser. But from a basketball standpoint, if they selected Perry Jones III or Jeffery Taylor I might have turned into stone.
Indiana: When the Pacers took Miles Plumlee with the 26th pick in the 2012 draft, I gently jotted the word “what” into my notes. Then I added three question marks, an exclamation point, and four underlines.
Why? Well, apart from the fact that the last tall white guy to come out of Duke and have any sort of meaningful impact at the professional level was Mike Gminski, I all but guarantee Plumlee would’ve been available at 36, when the Pacers ended up acquiring Orlando Johnson from Sacramento for cash considerations. Perry Jones III, Marquis Teague, Jeffery Taylor, and Quincy Miller were all on the board here. These are all players who could help in more ways than jumping, sitting on the bench, and generally annoying everyone they meet.
At some point, Indiana needs to stop overcompensating for the Ron Artest era of unspeakable disgrace. We get it. You’re drafting high character guys who live, breathe, and die basketball. But the reality of professional sports is that talent overrides all, no matter how big of an asshole that talent might be.
This pick isn’t the worst of all time: I don’t doubt Plumlee can have an impact on the glass and fill in where Jeff Foster and Louis Amundson will sorely be missed. But this year it’s the most glaringly out of place. As was previously written, the Pacers could’ve had him in the second round if their hearts so desired! Instead take someone who can add dimensions to your slightly predictable offense and go from there.
Houston: Heading into the draft, no team had more eyeballs on them than the Houston Rockets. And justifiably so. Houston made about 67 trades in the 48 hours leading up to last night’s first pick, and entered it with three first rounders in a draft loaded with depth.
Instead of parlaying those picks into another, larger, CNN Breaking News type of deal, they walked away with three compelling players with high-upside: Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, and Terrence Jones.
My first reaction was there’s no way all three turn up at training camp, and I stand by that belief. Then I thought: Wow, a small team (as of this moment, their tallest player is 6’10” Jon Leuer, closely followed by Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson; both standing at 6’9”) had three picks and the likes of John Henson and Tyler Zeller on the board, and they didn’t grab either (or both). This only increases the speculation that Orlando GM Rob Hennigan may have slipped Daryl Morey a few crib notes regarding which players he might have his eye on.
Brief words on Lamb: I think he can be a go-to scorer someday. Maybe an All-Star.
Brief words on Jones: Huge fan of his size, the fact that he’s left-handed, and the way he played hard throughout the NCAA Tournament as one of the most consistent offensive weapons Kentucky had.
More than a few brief words on White: I find it intriguing that two of the five smartest teams in the league were linked to the most mercurial player available. First Boston was rumored to have made White a pre-draft promise, then Houston took him with the 16th pick, never giving us the chance to see if there was any validity to the Celtics related speculation. On the basketball court he looks like a do everything stress reliever—a better version of Chandler Parsons.
If Houston happens to keep all three of these picks heading into next season, they’ll have an overflow of assets to manage. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking. I’d be shocked if they kept all three. (I know they supposedly aren’t interested in Pau Gasol, but Lamb would be a PERFECT fit in L.A. Just saying.)
Boston: Primarily due to the fact that they failed to add a scorer—this team’s dirty Achilles heel—I’m not a huge fan of what Boston did in this draft, especially with Perry Jones III still on the board.
(Imagine this unbelievable talent, learning from Kevin Garnett, running with Rajon Rondo, constantly having his tank of confidence being re-filled by Doc Rivers. The Baylor sophomore has no tangible limitations apart from that which lies between his two ears, and playing in the Celtics elite organization would have been incredible. A gamble, sure. But guess what. THEY HAD TWO PICKS. Why not use one on Jones, then take the near-sure commodity. I don’t know, it just feels like this kid will haunt my dreams for the next 10 years.)
Jared Sullinger may turn out to be the most productive value pick in the entire draft. He could be Paul Millsap 2.0. Talking about methodical back to the basket scorers who don’t need help and can draw the occasional double team, he could be the last of a dying breed. Then again, he could be Glen Davis sans the gregarious personality. This is what I fear.
Generally speaking, and bulging discs not withstanding, Sullinger has a ceiling. He’ll never be an elite athlete able to score from the perimeter, which is kinda sorta what every champion needs. Fitting him in with the Celtics, a team on the cusp of rebuilding around Rondo, he’ll NEED to develop a consistent mid-range jump shot (probably not all that great of a concern, but if he fails with this his fruitful post game is wasted.) Elsewhere on offense, Sullinger’s frame should allow him to set great screens for Rondo and Avery Bradley, and he’s one of the better rebounders available. Writing this gets me excited.
With the other pick, what Boston did (hopefully) was essentially replace Kendrick Perkins with Fab Melo. He’s a seven-footer, well reputed for defense with no offensive skills to speak of. Playing with Rondo, though, that probably means he’ll put on a high flying aerial attack. To put it bluntly, he’s tall, and size has been the sharpest thorn in Boston’s side these last few years.
Both picks should be able to come in and play right away, and both should help improve one of Boston’s most detrimental weaknesses: offensive rebounding. If the Celtics want to make the Finals next year, both will need to squirm their way into the rotation, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can manage.