The Pacers accomplished their season-long goal of earning the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, giving them home court advantage until the NBA Finals. The Hawks on the other hand, just clinched the #8 seed with a win over the defending champion Miami Heat. The Hawks have been ravaged by injuries to All-Stars Al Horford and Paul Milsap. Coach Budenholzer deserves tremendous credit for the job he has done, seeing as many people believed they would be in the running for a top 5 pick in this year’s draft. Although the Pacers have the best record in the East, they have struggled mightily since the All-Star break with a record of 15-14. Here is why each team could win the series. Why the Pacers will win:
Despite their struggles the Pacers are still one of the top 5 teams in the NBA, headed by their terrific defense which gives up only 92.4 points per game, 2nd in the NBA. Their scheme of forcing tough, mid-range jump shots is facilitated by the presence of 7’2 center Roy Hibbert, who has clearly established himself as one of the premier rim protectors in the NBA. They also have star power in Paul George, an emerging star who has improved every year of his career especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Pacers also improved their bench this season, adding Luis Scola from Phoenix and signing back-up point guard CJ Watson as well as executing an in-season trade with the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner. Bench scoring is vital in the playoffs as the starters have endured a tremendous physical toll on their bodies, and need scoring help. The Pacers should also benefit from the injury to Al Horford as Roy Hibbert should be able to dominate the low-post (just as he dominates the center less Heat). The Pacers have the talent to make a deep post-season run but their consistency is a concern.
Why the Hawks can win:
The Hawks have an advantage at two of the most important positions in this series, point guard and power forward. Jeff Teague garnered some All-Star consideration and Paul Milsap was a bonafide steal for the Hawks at two for years $19 million. Jeff Teague is an extremely quick guard who creates for others and can attack the basket. He should be able to drive by George Hill, but the problem lies in Indiana’s ability to deny easy baskets around the rim. Paul Milsap could also be a match-up problem for David West, who is more adept at guarding in the post rather than guarding stretch 4s. Although the Hawks are a terrible road team, they have played the Pacers well, splitting the four games they played this year, including winning one game in Indiana. If the Hawks manage to steal a game in the beginning of the series they could put enough pressure on the Pacers to take this to a six or even seven game series. X-Factor for the Pacers:
Roy Hibbert has been criticized for his comments about his teammates, calling them “selfish” and although these comments might be true, seeing as Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner are playing for new, lucrative contracts, Hibbert should look at his own play as a reason for the Pacers’ struggles. This Hawks series could be a boost for Hibbert’s confidence as the Hawks minus Al Horford, have limited big bodies to defend him. Hibbert’s defense is a constant but his offensive game is starting to waver and so are the Pacers. X-Factor for the Hawks: Kyle Korver
Kyle Korver might be the best spot up 3-pt shooter in game right now and holds the record for most consecutive games with a 3-pt basket with 127. Although the Pacers hold opponents to a measly 34.5% from 3-pt land, Korver has unlimited range that becomes very hard to guard when he gets hot. Korver also has plenty of playoff experience as he has played in 60 playoffs games and has contributed to the deep runs of the Utah Jazz in 07-08 and the 10-11 Chicago Bulls. There is no doubt that Roy Hibbert means more to the Pacers than Korver means to the Hawks but if Korver can get on a hot streak, he could help lead the Hawks to a monumental upset.
Prediction: Pacers in 6
A #1 seed has only lost in the first round four times in NBA history and I don’t think that number will change with this series. The Pacers just have too many weapons on both sides of the court and eventually I think they will wear the Hawks out. Coach Vogel deserves kudos for pushing his team through their rough patch, all while achieving their goal of winning the #1 overall seed. The Hawks also deserve credit for their accomplishments, not many teams could lose their two All-Star players to injury and still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Sure the Eastern Conference was weak in terms of wins and playoff positioning, but making the playoffs is still a respectable achievement. After the Pacers defeat the Hawks, they will have to take on the winner of the Bulls/Wizards series who both split the regular season series with the Pacers, 2-2 with the Bulls and 1-1 with the Wizards. Either matchup would present matchup difficulties as the Bulls’ series would be a drag-out, knockdown type series where whoever scores 80 points first will probably win the game. With the Wizards, the mismatch at point guard would be highlighted even more as John Wall is just head and shoulders above George Hill in terms of talent and productivity. To conclude, the Pacers roll on to the second round.
As March Madness approaches and the NBA playoff picture becomes clear, prospects are trying their best to impress scouts so they can hear their name called by commissioner Adam Silver. This draft class has been hyped since the summer, and now we are starting to appreciate why franchises may be willing to “tank” for high draft picks. It is rare to have 4-5 franchise players in the top 10, as well as other talented players projected to fall to the mid teens. GMs have their work to do. Here is my mock draft, which is subject to change based on draft position (#1-#21 from position standing on 3-3-14 and #22 to end from 3-13-14) and whether players will declare for the NBA draft.
1.) Milwaukee Bucks- Joel Embiid (Center- Kansas)
Why the Pick: Joel Embiid came into his freshmen season as the mystery of the Kansas Jayhawks’ recruiting class, overshadowed by the talent of Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins. Now, Embiid has emerged as one of the best players in the country. Scouts compare him to a young Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the best centers of all-time with a litany of vicious post moves that would stun defenders. Embiid has earned this comparison(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Irvvb7Y4-w) and might be a better defender than Olajuwon was when he was at Houston. Embiid’s numbers don’t shout superstar as he only averages 11.4 ppg and 8 rpg but what drives the interest is his upside — he can become the best center in the NBA. And savvy evaluators know Embiid has to compete currently for shots with Wiggins and Selden, two prolific wing players with NBA futures themselves.
How does he fit the Bucks: Embiid may have a tough rookie season as he would need to adjust to playing more physical centers and the attention he would attract as the main scoring option. The Bucks also have Larry Sanders, a defensive player who takes up most of the paint and would leave Embiid fighting for position. The Bucks could try to trade Sanders but his poor performance this season combined with his hefty contract makes him an unattractive option. If the Bucks can deal Sanders, then Embiid would likely flourish and reach his Olajuwon-like potential.
2.) Philadelphia 76ers- Andrew Wiggins (Forward- Kansas)
Why the Pick: If the 76ers land at number 2 and Wiggins is still available, expect them to sprint to the podium to make this pick. Now Wiggins came to college with unfair expectations, drawing comparisons to LeBron James and Kevin Durant, the two best players in the NBA. As the season has progressed, we are starting to see why these comparisons were made. Watching Wiggins drop 41 on West Virginia, (where he played high school ball), he showed a full array of offensive moves and defensive tenacity. His athleticism is off the charts, and at the absolute worst, Wiggins will be able to guard premier wing players in the NBA. Some question his motor but Andrew has shown that when the lights get bright, he won’t disappoint. He tends to have his best games in the biggest games. Everyone will be watching Kansas during the tournament, and it won’t surprise me if Wiggins takes over and proves why he is the best player in America.
How he fits: With Michael Carter-Williams as the front runner for ROY (Look at Jon’s article for his predictions on the major NBA awards) and Nerlens Noel recovering from a torn ACL, the 76ers would have one the youngest cores in the NBA. And given the pitiful 76er season, Wiggins would undoubtedly create excitement in the city of brotherly love. Wiggins would immediately become the primary scorer and expected to average between 18-22 ppg. If Brett Brown can tap into Wiggins’ potential, the Sixers could be for real very soon.
3.) Orlando Magic- Jabari Parker (Forward-Duke)
Why the Pick: The Magic need a franchise player who can score and Parker would help solve this problem as he can score in bunches. He can face up and bring players to the outside and body smaller players down low with his 6’8 235 lbs frame. Averaging 19 and 9, Parker can take over a game with his ability to knock down shots and take pressure off bigs on the defensive glass. Parker also brings leadership and a high basketball IQ that has impressed scouts. Future potential is a great asset, but being able to contribute immediately is Parker’s calling card. Parker is a game changer and the Magic need immediate help.
How he fits: Parker would step into the 3 spot and establish himself as the main scoring threat. With Victor Oladipo and Arron Afflalo at the wings, things could get crowded but Afflalo only has 1 year left on his contract so he can be moved on draft day. With the defensive threat of Oladipo and the offensive prowess of Parker, the Magic would improve and have a solid nucleus of talent.
4.) Boston Celtics- Julius Randle (Forward-Kentucky)
Why the pick: Julius Randle is probably the best equipped to deal with the NBA’s physical punishment of the top like picks as he stands 6’9 250 lbs. Randle is extremely athletic (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zt8pMZ7Gg-M) and shoots well from about 15-20 ft. He doesn’t shoot as much at Kentucky because of the perimeter-oriented players like the Harrison twins and James Young. There is no doubt that Randle could be a double-double machine in the NBA and may develop into a primary scorer.
How he fits: With the coaching ability of Brad Stevens and the return of Rajon Rondo, Randle should be just fine in terms of having success in his rookie year. Imagine a Rajon Rondo/Julius Randle pick and roll, with Rondo’s ability to get into the lane if the big comes out and switches, combined with Randle’s size against a smaller guard. This duo could be potent. Boston would still be in rebuilding mode though as they have numerous holes to fill.
5.) Utah Jazz- Gary Harris (Guard-Michigan State)
Why the Pick: The Jazz have a nice young nucleus with Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, but they lack a defensive stopper. Gary Harris is a tremendous two-player who could guard the elite playmakers in the West. He averages 17.7 ppg and 2 spg for the Spartans but his numbers don’t encompass his true value as Harris is asked to take all the big shots for Coach Izzo and he creates shots by himself. This is an important quality for any two-guard as scoring in the NBA won’t always be generated from a drawn-up set.
How he fits: Alec Burks is a good offensive player but he is nowhere near the overall player that Harris is, hence why Harris would start on the currently constructed Jazz team. Come crunch time, Tyrone Corbin should feel comfortable throwing Harris on the opposing teams’ best player.
6.) Los Angeles Lakers- Dante Exum (Guard-Australia)
Why the Pick: Sorry Lakers fans, the Kobe days are dwindling and they will need an heir to the franchise. Enter Dante Exum, the slim guard from down under. Exum is a super-quick combo guard who, standing at 6’6 is a nightmare for smaller guards. He can also pass, making him an even more intriguing prospect. He needs to work on his shot and his time training with the renowned Tim Grover (trainer of MJ, Kobe and D-Wade) should be beneficial. If Exum falls this far, there is no doubt the Lakers should take him.
How he fits: This draft process could be interesting as Exum is represented by Rob Pelinka, Kobe’s agent and rumors are swirling that Exum wants to end up in LA. All that hoopla aside, Exum will be a secondary type of scorer but learning from one of the most prolific scorers in history of the NBA shouldn’t hurt. After Kobe’s days are done, look for Exum to assert himself as the Lakers’ superstar.
7.) Denver Nuggets (Pick from Knicks)- Marcus Smart (Guard Oklahoma State)
Why the Pick: Even though Smart has had a down sophomore season, make no mistake his talent is off the charts. He can penetrate and finish at the rim and is a tenacious defender. He is also a vocal leader, evident by his invitation to last years’ Team USA summer camp. Frankly, the overreaction to Smart’s incident in Texas Tech is disappointing and I don’t think his stock will be impacted by the incident. He desperately needs to work on his outside shooting and even if he becomes a 45% percent shooter, his game will improve.
How he fits: Smart is deadly on the fast break and Denver currently averages 100 offensive possessions, best for 3rd in the NBA, making Smart a perfect fit for Brian Shaw’s up-tempo style. Smart won’t have the pressure of being the main scorer as Ty Lawson has that covered. Smart should start though, as the Nuggets don’t have a real threat at the two-guard position.
8.) Sacramento Kings- Aaron Gordon (Forward-Arizona)
Why the Pick: Gordon, like Wiggins was given an unfair comparison, this time comparing Gordon to Blake Griffin. While the two are both supremely athletic, Blake was much more refined in college and now has become a top 10 player in the NBA. Gordon can rebound, play defense on the perimeter and is a terrific passer in the post. His shot needs work, but his outside game will never be the focal point of Gordon’s success. Gordon also has a hot motor, a value overlooked by many fans.
How he fits: The Kings have a boatload of individual talent in Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Derrick Williams and DeMarcus Cousins but the wins are coming. Gordon won’t put up gaudy stats in his rookie year but he will definitely provide the necessary intangibles to win games. He reminds me of another Wildcat, Andre Iguodala, who never put up ridiculous stats, but has been a team leader and can defend the other team’s best player.
Why the Pick: With Luol Deng going to test free agency and LeBron not thinking about going back home, the Cavs are going to need a scoring wing player. Hood has a strong offensive array, combing individual moves with the ability to come off of Duke’s typical sreen-action. He is shooting 48 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from the three and has played a tremendous secondary role for Duke. He needs to work on his defense, which is strange for a Duke player from the Coach K system, but with more time and good NBA coaching, he should improve.
How he fits: Hood probably will be a third option on a good team, but for the Cavs he could be the second option behind Kyrie. The Cavaliers could use a knock-down shooter to reap the kick-outs of Kyrie’s driving prowess and Hood fits. Hood doesn’t have the potential as some of the previous prospects, but he should be good for 15-18ppg for his career, making him a safe pick for the troubled Cavaliers.
10.) Philadelphia 76ers (Pick from New Orleans)- Zach LaVine (Guard UCLA)
Why the Pick: The 76ers could change their franchise if New Orleans falls out the top 5 (part of the protection of this pick) and LaVine would provide an even more athletic piece to this team, already loaded with young talent. LaVine can shoot although he is a bit streaky evident by his 14 games with less than 10 points yet he has 8 games with over 15 points. These numbers don’t scream lottery pick, but his potential is worth the risk for the Sixers. He shoots 40 percent from behind the arc, and averaging a steal per game, LaVine does play both ends of the courts.
How he fits: LaVine can handle the ball, which would enable Michael Carter to play off the ball more and since LaVine can shoot he would open up driving lanes. Just imagine a Michael Carter Williams, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Thaddeus Young and Nerlens Noel lineup, not bad at all. The 76ers like to push the tempo, which would allow the super-athletic LaVine to get out on the break and finish at the rim.
11.) Charlotte Bobcats- James Young (Guard- Kentucky)
Why the Pick: James Young can flat out get buckets, and if he didn’t play for the Kentucky Wildcats, he would surely be averaging over 14.4 ppg. He has elite size for a two guard, standing at 6’6 with a 6’11 wingspan, meaning he will be able to get up shots on the NBA level. He needs to work on his defense but the size and instincts to become a solid perimeter defender are there, evident by his five steals in his last five games.
How he fits: Every team needs at least two scorers who can create for themselves and there is no doubt that Young would be able to fit this role in Charlotte. If he learns from the best player in the history of the game in MJ, James Young could have an advantage over the other prospects listed above him. It wouldn’t surprise me if Young became a 20+ scorer in due time.
12.) Orlando Magic (Pick from Nuggets)- Noah Vonleh (Forward- Indiana)
Why the Pick: Noah Vonleh came into Indiana as the next must-see player in Hoosier basketball and he has lived up to the hype. He averages 11.4 ppg and 9.1 all while shooting over 50% from the field. He has a nice inside-out type game and can shoot from 3, despite his hesitancy to do so. Vonleh also has a solid power forward sized body, standing 6’10 240 lbs, which means he should be able to play against the elite power forwards in NBA.
How he fits: Now that “Big Baby Davis” is gone, the Magic could use help at the power forward position. Vonleh would be given time to develop as a scorer as he could leave the scoring to Jabari (see above). There is no doubt that Vonleh can rebound and with his evolving offensive game, he could develop into a solid starter and maybe make an all-star team or two.
Why the Pick: Doug “McBuckets” McDermott is probably the safest NBA prospect as he will always be able to score the basketball. With over 3,000 points in his Creighton career, Doug is currently 7th on the list of all time college scorers. He has a bevy of offensive moves as he can use his big body in the post and can shoot from outside, with a 3pt shooting percentage of 45%. The NBA has a propensity to draft players with potential, and there is no doubt that McDermott deserves a lottery selection.
How he fits: In the caption I said that McDermott could be the perfect fit should Kevin Love leave the Wolves. This is not saying that McDermott will be the next Kevin Love, rather McDermott has a similar playing style as a stretch 4 that can shoot the three. McDermott could learn the game sitting behind Love and should Love leave during free-agency, McDermott could step in and contribute.
14.) Memphis Grizzlies- Jerami Grant (Forward-Syracuse)
Why the Pick: Jerami Grant is a NBA-ready athlete that uses his athleticism to beat opposing wings at the college level. Grant can shoot from the midrange but needs to work on his 3-point shot, which is essential for a small forward. He can defend using his 7’2 wingspan and knows defensive rotations as he leads from the back line of Syracuse’s famed 2-3 zone.
How he fits: Sure the Grizz could use some more perimeter oriented offense to combine with Z-Bo and Marc Gasol, but Grant has too much potential to pass up. As his offensive game evolves, Grant could become a 15 ppg player who provides tough defense to guard the opposing team’s best wing player. As Tony Allen primarily defends smaller and quicker point guards, Grant could lock down forwards, making for a dynamic defensive duo.
15.) Atlanta Hawks- Tyler Ennis (Guard-Syracuse)
Why the Pick: Tyler Ennis is a killer, he is calm under pressure (this has been said a billion times) and has led Syracuse to a 27-4 record this year and possibly a number one seed should the Orange win the ACC title. Ennis serves as a pass first point guard, looking for others to score then taking his own shots. Averaging 5.5 assists per game along with only 1.7 turnovers a game, he is showing why he is a lead candidate for the Bob Cousy award. He is not an elite athlete and with so many explosive players at the point guard position, the questions remains whether Ennis can handle the faster guards.
How he fits: The Hawks don’t need a point guard seeing as they drafted Dennis Schroder last year and just signed Jeff Teague to an extension, there is always room for improvement and I believe Ennis is a significant upgrade. Teague’s contract is relatively friendly with only $24 million owed for the next three years, making it a movable piece for the Hawks. If Ennis could be paired with Paul Milsap and a healthy Al Horford, the Hawks could be in business. The problem is if Ennis has a spectacular tournament, his stock will rise and will probably be off the board before the Hawks have a chance to get him. Ennis is a good bet to be the player picked later in the draft that turns out to be a top-5 player in the class.
16.) Chicago Bulls- (Pick from Charlotte) TJ Warren (Forward-North Carolina State)
Why the Pick: TJ Warren is a “bucket getter” averaging 24.7 points per game while shooting 53 percent from the field. He took a tremendous leap from his freshmen year where he only averaged 12 ppg and now he is the ACC Player of the Year. Warren does have his pitfalls as he doesn’t have the athleticism of an ideal NBA wing player and is really more a scorer.
How he fits: Warren fits perfectly, the Bulls need instant offense and a shot creator to come off the bench. Under Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system, Warren’s defensive weaknesses can be covered, allowing him to flourish on the offensive side of the ball. Warren would also work well with Derrick Rose as he can come off screens and spot up and shoot. The Bulls should be drooling if Warren falls to them at this spot.
17.) Boston Celtics (Trade from Brooklyn Nets)- Kyle Anderson (Guard-Forward UCLA)
Why the Pick: Kyle Anderson aka “Slow-mo” is as advertised, slow yet patient, never allowing an opponent to change his pace. Anderson improved from his freshmen year, his scoring went from 9.7 ppg to 15ppg, his assist from 3.5 to 6.6 and his field goal percentage from 41 percent up to 48 percent. He does have some turnover issues at 3.5 per game but UCLA runs a fast pace offense under Steve Alford averaging 72.7 possessions per game, making the turnover numbers greater. Anderson also possesses terrific size, standing at 6’9 he is bigger than all NBA point guards, making for a better view of the court, a plus for teams looking for point guards.
How he fits: Rajon Rondo looks to be on the outs as Danny Ainge tried to trade him at the trade deadline and there have been reports that Rondo is not happy with Boston’s plan to rebuild. Kyle Anderson would fit well, probably earning the starting point guard spot should Rondo leave. With the recent success of Michael Carter-Williams, Anderson might be a prime target for teams looking for a bigger guard. Anderson, like Ennis, could rise if he impresses during tournament time.
Why the Pick: As the NBA draft gets down towards the late-teens, teams look for situational-role players. Harrell fits the mold of a solid big defender who can guard in the post. A bit small at 6’8, Harrell has a massive 7’4 wingspan that should serve him well going up against the likes of Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and all the other potent bigs in the Western conference. Harrell has a limited post-up game that needs significant improvement, but that is not his calling card as Harrell uses his athleticism to create easy layups and dunks.
How he fits: With a guard oriented team like the Suns, Harrell won’t have to worry about scoring a prolific rate in order to be effective. The Suns are in desperate need of a lock-down post defender and in time, I believe Harrell could become just that. Combined with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, Harrell could feast off of lobs from the two-point guard system. Harrell should be a quality NBA player for the Suns and could be an elite defender.
19.) Chicago Bulls- Nik Stauskas- (Guard-Michigan)
Why the Pick: Nik Stauskas is a shooting machine who can light it up from 3-point land, averaging 2.4 3pt baskets per game while shooting a tremendous 45 percent. He also can shoot off the dribble, making him even more of an outside threat. Stauskas has good shooting guard size at 6’6 but he needs to improve his defense given his size. Stauskas reminds me of Klay Thompson without the defensive instincts.
How he fits: Kyle Korver. Mike Dunleavy Jr. Both have had success in Tom Thibodeau’s system and I believe Stauskas could play the younger and more athletic role of both of these aforementioned players. Combined with TJ Warren, the Bulls could have a lethal scoring duo from the bench. There is a possibility that the Bulls maybe trade the two picks for a higher selection so the Bulls might not be able to get both players.
20.) Toronto Raptors- CJ Fair (Forward-Syracuse)
Why the Pick: CJ Fair is a talented senior who has improved every year he has been at Syracuse going from a 6 point scorer freshmen year to a 17 point scorer this season. He has a tremendous midrange game and can even shoot the occasional 3 point shot. He is also a solid defender who has good lateral quickness but lacks power forward size. Although Fair doesn’t have size, the league is changing and stretch fours are becoming more and more popular, making Fair an attractive candidate to teams who need more shooting.
How he fits: Massai Ujiri came to Toronto because he saw the promise of DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas and viewed them both as franchise players. DeMar has clearly taken that step with the departure of Rudy Gay and now Jonas needs to take the same step. The problem is Amir Johnson primarily plays in the post, clogging up room for Jonas to operate. With CJ Fair, the Raptors could give Jonas more room in the post and have CJ as a potential 15 foot jump shooter.
21.) Oklahoma City Thunder- Adreian Payne (Forward-Michigan State)
Why the Pick: Adreian Payne is the cornerstone of the Michigan State program and is obviously the leader on the court and in the locker room. Add Payne to an already very positive and vocal locker room, and the chemistry is enhanced. On the court, Payne can stretch the floor and can play some defense against bigs but he needs to be more focused on both sides of the floor.
How he fits: Payne could be the heir apparent to the wily veteran Nick Collison and would likely serve a limited reserve roll for the Thunder. The Thunder have a nature of rotating rookies in and out of the D-League and then give them a bigger role in their sophomore campaign. If Payne fits the system he will probably ride the pine for his first year, yet emerge as a talented back-up later on.
Why the Pick: PJ Hairston minus his recent off the court trouble could have been a lottery pick, and maybe a possible POY candidate in the ACC. Make no mistake Hairston is talented, equipped with an effective outside game and NBA-type size, he is in perfect position to play the two-guard. In the D-league, defense is poor and some of Hairston’s stats are inflated but he is still showing why he was the best player on North Carolina last year.
How he fits: Gerald Green has found himself a nice niche in Phoenix, but his contract expires after next year and he could look to take a more lucrative offer elsewhere, leaving room for Hairston. Hairston most likely will rotate between the D-League and the NBA during his rookie year, but he could be a significant piece in his sophomore year.
23.) Utah Jazz- Chris Walker (Forward- Florida)
Why the Pick: Chris Walker was one of the best high school players in the nation last year, but he sat out the beginning of this year with academic issues. Walker is extremely athletic on both sides of court and can change the course of the game with his mere presence. Though talented, Walker is raw and his mid-range game needs significant work and development.
How he fits: Utah has one of the youngest teams in the NBA and they are clearly in rebuilding mode, so Walker would probably have the opportunity to make an impact his first year. Walker would probably back-up Derrick Favors but given playing time he could force himself into the starting lineup. Walker has tremendous talent and even reminds me of a rawer version of Amar’e Stoudemire.
24.) Charlotte Bobcats- Willie Cauley-Stein (Center-Kentucky)
Why the Pick: Willie Cauley-Stein is a prolific defender, who might just be a better shot-blocker than Anthony Davis but his offense is a work in progress. He is also extremely athletic, which helps him dominate in the paint. If Cauley-Stein can improve the post-game he could be a quality NBA center.
How he fits: Charlotte would be a tremendous fit for Cauley-Stein, as he could play next to Al Jefferson and primarily focus on the defensive side of the floor. The Bobcats are a nice, young team and Cauley-Stein would be another good addition.
25.) Los Angeles Clippers- Wayne Selden (Guard-Kansas)
Why the Pick: Wayne Selden has one of the most NBA-ready bodies, standing at 6’5 230lbs with a knack for getting to the rim, he could vault up draft boards with a strong NCAA tournament. Selden is also improving his outside game, a necessity if a player wants to survive as a two-guard in the NBA. His defense could improve as well as his shot selection but Selden is a solid prospect with nice upside.
How he fits: The Clippers tried to bring in two shooters in JJ Redick and Jared Dudley in the offseason and both have disappointed. Jamal Crawford is getting older and the Clippers could use another young, talented player like Selden to bolster their bench and possibly start alongside CP3.
26.) Houston Rockets- Glenn Robinson III (Forward-Michigan)
Why the Pick: Glenn Robinson III (son of “Big Dog” Robinson) has all the talent to be an NBA player, he has great size and tremendous athleticism and can shoot, but it doesn’t seem like he can put it together all at the same time. He is consistently inconsistent, which is infuriating to watch because he is such a talent. GR3 could be another player who could help his draft stock with a big NCAA tournament.
How he fits: Chandler Parsons is going to be a free agent after next summer and being a second round-pick he is probably going to cash in big time. There are rumors that the Rockets could target Carmelo Anthony during the offseason, leaving the Rockets with little to no cap room for Parsons, so this makes GR3 an ideal fit, seeing as he has the potential to be another Chandler Parsons as he can shoot it and can play defense.
27.) San Antonio Spurs- Clint Capela (Forward-Switzerland)
Why the Pick: Many have compared him to a young Serge Ibaka, a prolific defender with great size who needs to learn how to play the game in an NBA system. Granted, my access to Capela is limited but from the scouting tape he looks like an NBA player who could contribute as a back-up defender on a contending team.
How he fits: The Spurs are nearing the end of their run, yet Coach Pop always has a tendency to develop the unknown player and turn them into a contributor. With Capela, Pop would have a nice interior defender who can run the floor and provide solid minutes when Duncan or Splitter is out.
28.) Miami Heat- Mario Hezonja (Guard-Croatia)
Why the Pick: Hezonja is another prospect who I have to use film to watch, when I did watch his tapes I saw a player who has tremendous range and good size at 6’7 to play either the 2 or the 3. He needs to improve on the defensive end if he wants to be a solid player in the NBA, but the talent is there.
How he fits: Hezonja will most likely be a Euro-stash pick who would stay in Spain and play more and then receive a buy-out in a couple of years. With the Heat wanting to re-sign the big 3, Hezonja will likely be coaxed into staying the Spain for a couple of years until the Heat figure out their cap situation.
29.) Oklahoma City Thunder- Jahii Carson (Guard-Arizona State)
Why the Pick: Jahii Carson is small, but he has a bulldog mentality, constantly attacking the rim, regardless of the size of his defender. He also is a willing passer, evident by his 4.5 assists per game. Defending bigger point guards is going to be a problem but his elite quickness should help some.
How he fits: I have no idea why Derek Fisher is still getting minutes in an NBA game, but Carson could put an end to this foolishness if he were drafted by the Thunder. Frankly, the Thunder need another ball when Reggie Jackson is on the floor and Carson would be serviceable.
30.) Phoenix Suns- Semaj Christon (Guard-Xavier)
Why the Pick: Semaj Christon is one of the most underrated players in college basketball, as he can play the 1 and the 2 for the Musketeers. He is a terrific ball-handler and is capable of scoring for himself while also working inside the flow of the offense. His size is a question mark as he only weighs 190 lbs. He can shoot from deep, but he is still a work in progress.
How he fits: Jeff Hornacek has done a tremendous job with the Phoenix guards, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic and rookie Archie Goodwin has shown promise and Christon could be the same way. The fast pace at which Phoenix plays fits right in with Christon and he could be a nice back-up for Bledose and Dragic.
Conclusion: This draft is a pivotal piece for the growth of teams and with so many teams trying to “tank”, the emphasis on this draft is highlighted even more. The hype has been a bit overstated as it was compared to the legendary ’84 and 03′ drafts, but make no mistake, this draft has extraordinary potential.
The second year player out of UCONN has been one of the biggest surprises since entering the league last season. Although highly touted out of high school, Andre underachieved at Connecticut and many scouts feared that he would never fulfill his true potential. The talented big man could be one of the best centers in the league in the next few years and should be the catalyst for the Pistons during his prime. Although Dummond experienced a nice rookie season, he has 5 more points per game, 5 more rebounds per game, and 12 more minutes per game. Although Drummond’s offensive game is incredibly raw, he is one of the best athletes in the league, which enables him to garner his buckets and play great defense. At this point in his career, Drummond knows his limitations on offense so he shoots only around the basket. Currently, Drummond averages only 12.8 points per game, but has the second highest shooting percentage in the league, 61%. Although Drummond does not score more than 13 points per game, he has a 21.74 PER because he is a great rebounder, great rim protecter, and a good defensive player. Drummond is the best offensive rebounder in the league, 5.2 orpg, and the fourth highest rebounds per game, 12.3. Currently, Drummond has the tenth highest blocks per game, 1.63, and has the ability to alter more shots because of his agility, size, and wing span. Andre should be able to continue his success and not surprise people in the future because of his talent.
9. Kyle Lowry
The veteran point guard and up coming free agent is playing the best basketball of his career for the Raptors. Although he has been rumored in numerous trades to numerous organizations, Lowry continues to shine north of the border. By the trade deadline, the Raptors will probably trade Lowry because his value has sky rocketed and they do not have a chance of making it out of the first round, if they make the playoffs. Lowry is averaging 15.8 points, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, and 4.0 rebounds per game. Lowry’s points and assists numbers are the best of his career and they should continue to rise as the season ends. Since the trade of Rudy Gay, Lowry has averaged nearly 19 points per game with 8.4 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals. Lowry is entering the prime of his career and should be considered for the All-Star team, if he maintains his solid basketball performances. Without Gay to shoulder the offense, Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be forced to score most of the Raptors points. Also, Lowry will be forced to score points and set up his opponents. If healthy, Lowry has the potential to succeed and average nearly 18 and 8 for a Raptors’ team, which has a chance to go to the playoffs in the dreadful East and the “Titanic” Division. Lowry should continue surprising NBA fans and experts, as long as he is on the Raptors and is given enough shots and minutes. If Lowry is traded to a point guard needy team, his stats may diminish, but he will continue to play good basketball.
8. Jeff Teague
The young leader of the Atlanta Hawks is putting together the best season of his career. This offseason, Teague signed a big multi year deal. After losing Joe Johnson and Josh Smith in consecutive years, the Hawks were forced to count on Al Horford and Jeff Teague to lead them to the playoffs. However, the Hawks have now lost Al Horford for the season, which will put more pressure on Teague. Luckily, Teague is playing great this season. The 25 year old is posting career highs in points, 17, assists, 8.3 which is fourth in the East, rebounds, 2.8, and steals, 1.5. Teague has nearly double the amount of free throws per game. While Teague has been successful in the past, he was never the center of attention of the offense and never score more than 13.5 points per game. Although Teague is not a superstar, he is a quality point guard and has led the Hawks to the third best record in the Eastern Conference. Although Teague was not a shoot first point guard, he will look to shoot more often and score more points. Since the loss of Horford, Teague has averaged 25 points per game while averaging 2.5 steals and 10 assists per game. If the Hawks are going to their third best record in the league, Teague must continue to score over 20 points per game and average about 9 or 10 assets per game. Teague is rated inside the top 45 in the league in Estimate Wins Added and Value Added and his rank should increase as the season wears. The former first round pick should continue to surprise fans from around the league so the Hawks can maintain their success.
7. Aaron Afflalo
The centerpiece of the Dwight Howard trade, besides the draft picks, has accomplished the best season of his career, thus far. During his first season with Orlando last year, Afflalo averaged only 16.6 points with 3.7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. However, Afflalo has greatly improved this season and is leading the young Magic squad. Although the Magic have only 10 wins this season, the addition of Oladipo and the improvement of Afflalo has made the Magic a more dangerous squad. This season, Afflalo is setting a career high in points, 21.9, assists, 4.0, rebounds, 4.5, steals, three point percentage, 45%, and free throws per game, 5.1. Afflalo has been the offensive catalyst for the club that desperately needs offensive talent and scoring. Afflalo has a 24% usage rate, which is the highest on the team and the highest of his career. Along with providing offensive support, Afflalo has the best defensive rating of his career and is on pace to set a career high in defensive win shares. According to Jason Hollinger, Aaron Afflalo has a 20 PER and ranks top 20 in the league in value added and estimated wins added. The Magic shooting guard should continue his career season because he has improved in every aspect of the game. Although he is not a house hold name, Afflalo should be considered for the All-Star team because of his success this season and the dearth of shooting guards in the association.
6. Eric Bledsoe
The Suns’ 24 year old point guard is one of the main reasons why the Suns have the sixth best record in the tough Western Conference. The Suns were suppose to be one of the worst teams in the league, but Bledsoe and Dragic have led the young team to a very good record. Eric Bledsoe became one of the valued commodities this offseason because of his success when Chris Paul was injured. Bledsoe will enable the Suns to let go or trade Dragic, which should net a good return or extra cap space to sign a new free agent. Before this season, Bledsoe averaged 20.4 minutes, 8.5 points, 1.4 steals, 3.1 assists, and 3.0 rebounds per game. However, Bledsoe has been given more options, which has allowed him to explode. Currently, Bledsoe is averaging 18.4 points, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 4.3 rebounds, and 49% shooting percentage. Bledsoe has been able to combine his skill with his size and speed to become one of the best young point guards in the league. Bledsoe should be headed to the All-Star game because of his significance, but it is unlikely because of the number of great point guards in the West. Bledsoe has a PER of over 20, which ranks 21st in the league and has one of the highest usage percentage in the league, as well. Bledsoe should continue to exceed expectations as he gains more experience and learns the tendency of defenders around the league. Bledsoe should gain more assists as he becomes closer with his teammates and have more time to practice. On defense, Bledsoe has been very good over the last two seasons, posting a defensive rating around 101.
5. John Wall
The former first overall pick is turning into one of the best young players in the league and should become the next superstar point guard. Towards the end of last season and the beginning of this year, John Wall has improved his game because he has become a more accomplished scorer and leader for the Washington Wizards. During his first few seasons, the Wizards’ losing negatively affected Wall because he was not used to the losses. However, the Wizards are one of the better teams in the East and Wall is leading the team to one of the four 500 records in the East with his great basketball. Before this seasons, everybody was aware of John’s speed and ball handling, but his shooting was not very effective. This season, Wall is shooting more threes and has posted the highest three point percentage and two point percentage of his career. Along with the higher percentages, Wall is scoring more points and averaging more assists per game than any other season of his career. This season, Wall has the opportunity to post a 20-10 season. Wall’s 9 assists per game are ranked third in the NBA, which is the highest he has ever been ranked in his career. Along with an improved offensive game, Wall is averaging more than 2 steals per game, which is the most in his career. Wall was given a big deal this season and is showing that he is worth the big money because he has played like a top 20 player. Wall should be nominated to the Eastern All-Star team because the number of hurt point guards in the East and the numbers he has posted. Wall could even start the game because he is talented and well known among NBA fans.
4. Anthony Davis
The first overall pick from last year’s draft was suppose to be the next great power forward in the NBA because of his skill, size, and length. During a disappointing and injury filled season, he played only 64 games and averaged 13.5 points, 1.8 blocks, 8.2 rebounds, and 51% from the field. However, Davis has been one of the best all around players in the league this season, when he has been on the floor. Davis has significantly improved his offensive output. This season, Davis is averaging 19.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and a league leading 3.1 blocks per game. Davis is currently top five in PER and ranks inside the top 15 in both EWA and VA, which shows that he is one of the 15 best players in the league, thus far. Davis has improved his offensive and defense rating by a combined 10 points, 120 offensive rating and 101 defensive rating. Davis has the potential to be similar to Kevin Garnett. He plays great defense and has the ability to score 20-25 points per game. Anthony Davis should continue to improve and become one of the best players in the league in the next 3 to 4 years. Along with the potential, Davis has a good nucleus in New Orleans, which should lead them to a few playoff appearances and wins during his career. This season, Davis should be an All-Star in the West and has the stardom to make the team, unlike the previous players named. Although early, Davis seems like a potential superstar, who has a chance to make the Hall of Fame and multiple All-Pro teams, if he can continue improving on offense and playing great defense.
3. DeMarcus Cousins
The volatile Kings center is one of the most talented players in the league and has the best team around him since he entered the league. Cousins has improved during every year of his four year career, but has exploded this season for Sacramento. Before this season, Cousins’ best stats were 18.1 points per game with 11.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals, and 46% shooting percentage. However, Cousins has drastically improved every stat and is now averaging 22.9 points, 3.2 assists, 11.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 49% shooting from the field. Along with the improved offense, Cousins has the the best defensive rating of his career. Also, Cousins has been able to temper his emotions, which has enabled him to stay on the floor and not accumulate technicals or personal fouls. John Hollinger believes that Cousins has been one of the six best players in the league as he ranks top six in PER, EWA, and VA. Currently, Cousins has the highest usage rate in the NBA because he was the one very good player on the Kings, before the Rudy Gay trade. Rudy Gay should improve Cousins’ overall game because he will draw as many double teams and will not have to score all the points for the team. With more one on one opportunities, Cousins should improve his already high PER and his shooting percentage from the field. Along with Gay, Ben McLemore and Isiah Thomas have improved, which give Cousins more room to work in the paint. Although the Kings are bad this season, their future looks bright with Cousins as the anchor of the team. Like Davis, Cousins has the stardom to make the All-Star this season and the potential to make multiple All-NBA teams and become one of the best players in the league.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge
The Blazers have been the biggest surprise team in the NBA because of the improvements of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. The Blazers have the third best record in the Western Conference, 24-7, and the fourth best record in the whole NBA. Last season, the Blazers did not even make the playoffs and many were questioning the future of the Blazers’ core. Many people believed that Aldridge would be traded to the Bulls or another contender because he did not like Portland and did not believe the team could lead him to the playoffs. Although Aldridge was a quality player in the past, 21 points per game with 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.8 fouls per game in the last three seasons, he has improved as a leader and has taken another step forward as a player. Aldridge is currently averaging nearly 24 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 1 steal, 47%, and 1.9 fouls per game. While the foul numbers may be a overlooked, it is an important factor because he can contest more shots, rebound more balls, and play with more aggression. These little things drastically improve the overall team’s performance, which has helped improved the overall record. Although Aldridge’s offensive stats are similar to the past, his defensive rating has improved by a few points, which can be attributed to his more aggressive nature and his bigger commitment to defense. Aldridge is on pace to make his third straight All-Star team and should be considered to be the starter of the All-Star team. Aldridge is rated in the top ten in both estimate wins added and value added.
1. Paul George
The Indiana Pacer small forward has taken another big step this season and is in the conversation for the MVP award. Two seasons ago, George was a nice player that could play good defense and score10-15 points. However, last season, George took a step forward, played great defense, became a quality offensive player, and won the most improved player award since he was given more minutes with the loss of Danny Granger. However, Paul became a great player this season and is playing like a top five player in the league. Many experts around the league believe that he is the fourth best player in league behind James, Durant, and Paul because of his skills and he is leading the team with the second best record. Paul is averaging 23.9 points, 3.6 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 41% from three, and 48% from the field. Paul’s points and shooting percentage are a career high. Paul also rates very highly in Value Added and Wins Shares because of his two way ability and overall skill. Last season, Paul made his first All-Star team and this year he is definitely going to be an All-Star behind LeBron James at small forward. Although George’s offense is good, his defensive metrics are some of the best in the league. Over the past two seasons, George is leading the league in defensive wins shares and should be a candidate for the DPOY. Along with leading the league in defense, George’s defensive rating is 94, which is second in the league. George just signed a new contract, which will be a bargain for the next four seasons. George is determined to lead the Pacers past the Miami Heat this season and has the skill and body to defend LeBron.