Saturday, April 14, 2007

NBA Draft Lottery (Everything You Need To Know)

May 22nd could go a long way in determining the foreseeable future of the Boston Celtics' (and Danny Ainge). This is the date in which 14 pathetic NBA franchises will learn their upcoming lottery fate. With last night's loss (and 3 games remaining), at home against Milwaukee, the C's wrapped up the 2nd worst record in the NBA -- they currently stand at 23-56. Thus, entering the dropping of the pin-pong balls...the Celtics maintain a 20% chance of landing the coveted top pick -- and a 38.9% chance of landing a top 2 selection (all early entry collegiate players must declare by April 29th).

Quite frankly, I don't care what the likes of Chad Ford & others forecast Player X to land. I'm here to tell you whom are the 10 best (American) NBA prospects (thus, eliminating China's Yi Jianlian from the below analysis) in the 2007 Draft. Why? Because I watch enough basketball that it's actually become quite shameful (I keep telling myself that I really need to expand my horizons, but I can't possibly pull myself away my true loves -- that being, baseball and basketball).

With no further ado, here is how the top 10 SHOULD unfold (assuming Julian Wright returns to Kansas for his sophomore campaign, as currently expected)...

1. Greg Oden - this is an absolute no-brainer. Anyone that mentions Durant as even a potential #1 pick should be banned from watching sports. Durant is a future All-Star. Barring injury, Oden is a guaranteed future Hall of Famer. Upon entering the league, Oden will instantly become the 2nd best center in basketball (only behind Yao, as I don't consider Duncan a center). In all my years of following sports, I have NEVER seen a "big-man" with as much athleticism that Oden possesses. He's a game-changer...he will immediately make any team into an above average defensive club. And, his offensive game is perfectly suited for the NBA -- which is an up-and-down pace. The closest player which resembles Oden's game is a young Alonzo Mourning -- only that that Oden is remarkably more athletic and already possesses, at the age of 19, more of an NBA-ready offensive arsenal than 'Zo. In Oden's rookie season, expect 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks every night. Following his rookie season, the sky is the limit.

(I am not afraid to admit the fact that I have developed a "man-crush" on Greg Oden).

2. Kevin Durant - he is this year's consolation prize (but a great one, at that). After taking home nearly every individual honor at the collegiate level this year, Durant had no choice but to declare. I keep hearing pundits refer to Durant as the next Garnett, or the next McGrady, or even more lately...the next Nowitzki. No, no, and no! They are all wrong. Durant's game isn't similar to any of the aforementioned.

First off, Garnett plays primarily in the low post. Offensively, the only time Durant gets down towards the blocks is when he slashes past his defender. Outside of athleticism, I don't understand this comparison.

The McGrady comparison I can, at least, see to some degree. However, McGrady has much better handle, is a better passer, and is better at getting to the bucket. On the flip side, Durant possesses more range, has a much quicker release, and seems to thrive in a leadership role.

Nowitzki? The only thing these two players have in common is that they can both shoot the rock (albeit, Durant is a more inconsistent shooter at this early stage in his career) -- and both are sub-par defenders.

So who's game does Durant's resemble?? None other than Paul Pierce. Yes, Durant is much more athletic than Pierce. However, both are very streaky shooters with nearly unlimited range. Both players need the ball in their hands, as they seem to drift in the half-court set when playing without the ball. For this reason...if the C's land the #2 pick, then Ainge will have to think long-and hard about moving Pierce to another team. Under no circumstances can I picture seeing a tag-team of Pierce and Durant as a recipe for success.

3. Brandan Wright - no team is going to want this pick. Unless a team falls in love with a particular player during individual draft workouts, every team is going to be looking to move this pick. Why? Because the next several players are all about equal, as they all possess their fair share of strengths and weaknesses. Like Durant, Wright has Garnett-like athleticism. Again, like Durant...Wright needs to bulk up -- he's a rag doll in the post (at least Durant spends most of his time matched up against smaller players, in terms of strength).

Wright is very inconsistent (look no further than his game vs. USC in this year's tourney -- honestly, I had the same impact as Wright on that game - only I was sitting on my couch). However, he was only a freshman this past, that had to be expected (unless, of course, your name is Kevin Durant).

If somehow the Celtics get screwed out of a top 2 pick, it will spell disaster. Even though Wright is currently slated as my #3 prospect, the C's can't possibly pick another project -- as Wright is at least 2-3 years away from being an NBA impact player. Coincidentally, Pierce only has 2 years (at most) left in his "prime".

4. Al Horford - a beast...a terror...a winner! An athletic Corliss Williamson. Or, Dwight Howard with Antawn Jamison-like athleticism, if you will. Solid in every aspect of the game -- has a Tim Duncan-like basketball IQ. His offensive array is very raw. However, all indications indicate that his bruising offensive game will only blossom, as he's noted to be an extremely disciplined and hard worker. Horford will immediately contribute at the NBA level -- think 11 points, 7-8 rebounds as a rookie.

(Between now and the draft, I reserve the right to flip-flop Wright and Horford -- in terms of whom is the better prospect).

5. Corey Brewer - I love Brewer's game. He's insanely intense and competitive. He's as wirery (if that's even a word) as Tayshaun Prince / Shaun Livingston, but he always plays with a mean-streak. He defines the term, "lock-down defender". His offensive game is very inconsistent, which is typical for set-shooters. However, he possesses the ability to blow by his defender -- and isn't afraid to finish. In terms of basketball ability, he reminds me of a much skinnier, yet more athletic Ron Artest.

6. Mike Conley, Jr. - my favorite player to watch in the entire draft. Calm, cool, and collected. Rarely ever makes a bad decision on the court. Lightning quick at both ends of the court. Clutch!

At the collegiate level, he was Ohio State's best player (and that is saying a TON, in-and-of itself). I may take some heat for saying this, but...Conley, Jr. is the second coming of Chris Paul -- their game's mirror each others, almost to a tee (Paul isn't much of an NBA 3-point threat either).

Many draft pundits go on to say that Conley lacks the shooting ability to become a stud in the NBA. I couldn't disagree more. Yes, Conley, Jr. struggled with his shot at the start of his freshman season -- and, he won't ever be Gilbert Arenas from behind the arc...but, he is VERY comfortable in knocking down the mid-range jump-shot (by the way, something that Rajon Rondo cannot do).

7. Joakim Noah - I hope college life was great to Noah this year. Yes, he captured back-to-back championships while at Florida (with the help of the aforementioned Horford and Brewer), but he had all but solidified himself as the #1 pick in the 2006 Draft. Now, he is left being this year's version of Matt Leinart -- as Noah could go anywhere in the lottery (outside of the top 2). Probably a power forward in the NBA (but like Durant / Wright / Brewer, Noah desperately needs to bulk up).

Let's get to energizer, a leader, a defensive wizard, a hustler, a deer while in transition. On the flip side, he is a terrible offensive player when playing in the half-court set. He also has disgusting footwork in low post, so he's a long ways away from being a significant cog in any team's offense.

Think Shawn Marion / Andrei Kirilenko...but, with no offensive flow. Bottom line, I want him no where near Celtic green.

8. Roy Hibbert - one word...HUGE (7'2", 265 lbs. huge). Lumbers up-and-down the court -- is painful to watch run, as I feel as if he may fall over and break through the parquet at any moment.

Has Antonio Gates-type hands. When he came to Georgetown as a freshman, he blatantly stood out as a stiff. As a result, his drastic improvement is nothing short of remarkable. For that sole reason, you have to assume he's extremely dedicated to his craft. In terms of athleticism, he reminds me a lot like Kendrick Perkins. However, their game's are not similar at all. Perkins has no hands, no offensive game, and is often lost on the court...but, can bang and rebound. On the other hand...Hibbert owns a decent shot from 10-12 feet, is a below average rebounder for his size, yet more than willing to throw his body around.

9. Jeff Green - Solid, solid, solid. Does everything well, but doesn't necessarily excel in any one area. Will likely end up as a small forward in the pros. Is a garbage man, meaning he has a knack for where the ball is going to be (much like Jared Dudley). In saying that, he often has trouble creating his own shot. Reminds me of Ryan Gomes, in that both players don't possess the "upside" that NBA scouts fawn over. Depending on the team which drafts Green, he could end up starting right away (simply because his game is NBA-ready). In the long-run, Green likely makes the ideal 6th Man on a competitive NBA team.

Best case scenario...Green puts everything together and becomes a combination of Shane Battier and Josh Howard. If the C's fall out of the top 2, I would have no qualms with them trading down in the draft -- and, eventually, drafting this Hoya.

10. Spencer Hawes - significant talent drop-off after the top 9 American prospects (again, assuming Julian Wright does not enter). I'm sure you've heard the age-old adage..."pass on the white center". However, Hawes is a better bet than most -- if he opts to stay in the draft (he has declared, but hasn't yet hired an agent), he will not fall out of the lottery. His untapped potential is much greater than Robert Swift's, an all-time favorite of Danny Ainge.

As noted with most in the top 10, Hawes desperately needs to add weight. However, he does have the frame which suggests this is possible. Like Hibbert, Hawes can shoot for a big-man -- Hawes' range even extends further than Hibbert's. He will definitely be a starting center in the NBA for years to come. Think Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Others of intrigue: Chase Budinger (Arizona), Javaris Crittenton (Georgia Tech), Nick Young (USC), Al Thornton (Florida State), Thaddeus Young (Georgia Tech)

...lastly, here's to hoping that recent Providence grad, Herbert Hill, makes a lasting impression in the upcoming individual workouts. Hill had an outstanding senior season (18.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.9 blocks...all while shooting 64% from the field), thus, prompting him into the discussion as a late 1st Round pick.

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