Wed May 20 11:45am EDT
With the selection order all set for the 2009 NBA Draft, Eamonn Brennan of The Dagger takes a look at what the 14 lottery teams might do come June 25 ... if — and that's a big if — they don't trade their pick.
No. 1: Los Angeles Clippers ....... Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma
Why: You don't need me to tell you why. Even if you didn't see a second of college hoops this season — and come on, BDL readers, I know you at least saw some tourney action, right? — you've already seen enough highlight clips to make the point clear: Blake Griffin is easily the best player in this draft. He's as close to a can't-miss power forward prospect as there is. With the possible exception of defense, Griffin is good at everything: he can shoot, he has an array of post-moves, he's preternaturally athletic (ESPN'er Fran Frischilla once said his leaps look like a "dump truck on a trampoline"), and he's infamous for his insane workout ethic. He'll be a good pro. Probably a great one.
No. 2: Memphis Grizzlies ....... Ricky Rubio, PG, DKV Joventut
Why: Because he's 18 years old, and some people think he'll be the best point guard in the world? As he didn't play college hoops, and the only time I've caught glimpses of him was during bleary-eyed Olympic viewings in Beijing last summer, that's good enough for me.
No. 3: Oklahoma City Thunder ....... Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut
Why: Because 7-feet-3-inches rarely comes in this athletic a package. Thabeet had a great senior season for UConn, averaging 4.2 blocks and 10 rebounds per game for the Huskies. He's not a great scorer. His hands are a bit questionable. And he's physically susceptible to girthy big men like Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair, who torched him in Big East play. (Yeah, I just called Blair "girthy." Jay Bilas, eat your heart out.) But Thabeet is also loaded with potential; he's only been playing hoops for about five years, so his learning curve is different. There might be plenty more talent left to tap into.
No. 4: Sacramento Kings ....... DeMar DeRozan, SG, USC
Why: Because Kobe comparisons don't come lightly. Look, DeRozan might have served himself well by staying in the draft another year, but there's no denying his gifts: he's 6-foot-7-inches with a rangy game, a good amount of offensive polish for a 19-year-old, and freakish athleticism. DeRozan might be the highest-risk, highest-reward pick in the draft. He could turn into one of those really good pro wing players (Bryant, Tracy McGrady(notes), Vince Carter(notes)) or he could go bust. His one year in college wasn't enough to settle the argument. But he is talented. He is definitely talented.
No. 5: Washington Wizards ....... Jordan Hill, C, Arizona
Why: Because he's the next best thing to Blake Griffin or Hasheem Thabeet (assuming, that is, that Wizards fans wanted one of the two). Like the two players immediately preceding him, Hill is still a work in progress. He needs to improve in a lot of areas. His 2008-09 season with Arizona wasn't exactly gangbusters. Still, he's massive and athletic and his wingspan is roughly the length of my apartment, so it's not hard to see what NBA scouts like so much. The only problem is that it's yet to translate on the court.
No. 6: Minnesota Timberwolves ....... James Harden, SG, Arizona State
Why: Because James Harden's swag is unstoppable. Here's another draft enigma: Will James Harden's weird, jittery offensive game translate to the pros? Will his set three-pointers be as difficult to guard in the NBA as they were in college? Will he be able to get to the hoop, despite his limited athleticism? Will his legendary "basketball IQ" make up for these faults? I do not know. But I do know that James Harden might be the most stylish player in the draft, and for that, he deserves some credit.
No. 7: Golden State Warriors ....... Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, Memphis
Why: Because Evans can do it all. Last year, Memphis struggled in their pre-conference schedule. John Calipari switched his prized recruit, 6-foot-6 shooting guard Tyreke Evans, to point guard, the idea being that with Evans starting the break, the wasteful extra pass it took to get the ball in his hands on offense was no longer necessary. Evans has plenty to work on — especially his shooting; his form looks like he broke his elbow and then tried to do shooting drills in cast, or something — but there were few scarier college hoops sights in '08-09 than Tyreke on the break with that high dribble in his hand.
No. 8: New York Knicks ....... Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Davidson
Why: Because Curry proved himself as much in 2008-09 as he did in his famous NCAA tournament. Last year, after Curry decided to forgo the NBA draft and return for his junior season, he began handling Davidson's point guard responsibilities as well. This served two purposes. One, it allowed Curry to have the ball in his hands as frequently as possible after the Wildcats graduated former point Jason Richards(notes). Two, it allowed Curry to prove he could run the point in the NBA. Surprisingly, he's almost as good a passer as he is a shooter. Sure, he's not as athletic as some others in the draft, but few players are as polished and pretty. Besides, athleticism is what kept the big boys from recruiting him out of high school. We all saw how well that went.
No. 9: Toronto Raptors ....... Brandon Jennings, PG, Lottomatica Roma
Why: Because Europe didn't break Brandon Jennings. For all the talk of how difficult Jennings' Europe experiment would be — and how difficult, for a time, it was — Jennings now appears ready to be a starting point guard in the NBA. It's a shame we didn't get to watch him stateside.
No. 10: Milwaukee Bucks ....... Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina
Why: Because Lawson is finally getting his due. After playing in the shadow of Tyler Hansbrough for years, 2008-09 saw Lawson become the Tar Heels' greatest weapon. He was the fastest player in college basketball in '08-09; his blazing drives to the rim, where he finishes with preternatural strength and body control, single-handedly won UNC more than one game last year. His shooting could be better, and he occasionally struggled with some health issues, but if you need a guard to push the pace and get to the rim in transition, Lawson is your guy.
No. 11: New Jersey Nets ....... Gerald Henderson, SG/SF, Duke
Why: Because Gerald Henderson harnessed his game. Before 2008-09, Henderson was the picture of a raw athlete. He wasn't a great shooter or passer, and his contributions came mostly in rebounding and defense from the small forward spot. Last year, though, Henderson pulled it all together, developing a nice mid-range jump shot and a few go-to offensive moves. Add that to his great size and athleticism — he was among the most athletic players in the country in college — and you've got a still-improving player who's probably already good enough to contribute right away.
No. 12: Charlotte Bobcats ....... Earl Clark, SF, Louisville
Why: Because Clark is a guard with a 6-foot-9-inch body. Yes, Clark is that tall, but his ability to handle the ball and make outside shots — part of what made Louisville so difficult to solve for so many teams in 2008-09 — ought to be incredibly valuable to a pro club. Remember the days when everyone was drafting rangy Garnett-esque big men? Clark is like the mini version of that strategy. If his college days are any proof, it should be a good thing.
No. 13: Indiana Pacers ....... Johnny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
Why: Because Johnny Flynn quits for no man. I'm not a big fan of talking about players in terms of their "make-up." It always just seems like a fancy, scouty way of saying "he was nice to me when I talked to him that one time." But Flynn is different. His team-oriented, let's-do-this make-up — seen most obviously in Syracuse's legendary six-OT game versus UConn in the Big East tournament, where he played 67 minutes and hit all 16 of his free throw attempts — is perfect for a point guard. Plus he's, like, good at basketball.
No. 14: Phoenix Suns ....... DeJuan Blair, PF, Pittsburgh
Why: Because I want to talk about DeJuan Blair for a second. Blair, to me, will be one of the most interesting draftees this year. In 2008-09, Blair rebounded at a legendary level, grabbing around 25 percent of his teams offensive rebound attempts, more than many entire teams. That sort of rebounding ability — even in an undersized, maybe-slightly-overweight packaged — has to be worth something to NBA teams, right? Yes? No?