NBA Draft Day Review: Part 1

Aaron Bruski
With training camps one week away, Ryan Knaus examines key position battles throughout the Eastern Conference

NBA Position Battles: East

With training camps one week away, Ryan Knaus examines key position battles throughout the Eastern Conference

It’s good to be back and digging into the real issues – fantasy hoops issues – and after last night’s draft extravaganza there is a ton to talk about.  We’re going to go 1-15 in this edition, and in a few hours I'll post 16-30, some notables and finally yesterday’s trades in a jam-packed kickoff to the 2013-14 fantasy season. 

* Note: For clarification purposes when I use the term ‘Shallow’ leagues I’m generally referring to 8-10 teams and the rest are as follows: Standard (12), Deep (14-20), Super-Deep (20-25) and Massive (25-30 teams).  It’s not an exact science as you have to figure how many roster spots you have, etc. 


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1. Anthony Bennett, UNLV – PF – Cavs

I don’t think the draft could have started any better in terms of pure entertainment value, as I did not see Bennett going No. 1 anywhere and his draft stock was falling on reports of added pounds and mild shoulder concerns.  There are also the concerns about his defense, which are very real, and he’s not a great rebounder for his position. 

Offensively he’s a bit of a ball-hog, so don’t expect many (if any) assists and at just 6’7” (239 lbs) he is a classic SF/PF tweener which could cause problems if he doesn’t clean his act up defensively.  Otherwise, he’s a superb scorer that can make shots all over the court, though he sounds like Josh Smith in that one day we may all be yelling at him not to shoot the three. 

On the plus side Bennett is very athletic and if he can make strides in the areas of decision-making, conditioning and defense he has the chance to conjure images of Larry Johnson.  Ideally he would debut in the NBA as a power forward, so he doesn’t have to defend athletic small forwards he can’t check, so the decision by the Cavs to pair him next to Tristan Thompson (another PF) is curious.  The Cavs don’t have that many starting-level players, however, so both guys should eclipse 30 mpg barring something unforeseen. 

From a fantasy perspective, Bennett leaves a lot to be desired all over the place.  His shooting numbers, defense and ultimately everything but his scoring all project to be substandard for his position no matter how many minutes he gets.  He looks like a decent bet for low-end value in standard 8-cat leagues, but throw in some turnovers and some high-volume, below average shooting and he could be a bit of a downer in Year 1.

Recommendation:  He should be owned in all leagues for the chance he can iron out the wrinkles and show why he was taken with the No. 1 pick, and with a decent chance at low-end value he provides some degree of fantasy ‘floor’ to the equation.  He’ll probably be overdrafted in many leagues, and I wouldn’t spend more than a mid-late round pick on him in standard formats.

2. Victor Oladipo, Indiana – SG – Magic

Full disclosure – I love players like Oladipo.  He has a relentless motor and the ability to defend all three perimeter positions at the NBA level and do it exceedingly well.  The fact that he’s bringing an improving offensive game to the big show is just icing on the cake, though without that he doesn’t go nearly this high.  With an improving 3-point shot that he hit sparingly at a 44 percent clip last season, the only thing he doesn’t do is put the ball on the ground or make plays at a high rate.  But with the improvement he continues to show along with his stellar work ethic, it’s just a matter of time before he becomes serviceable in that regard. 

Supremely athletic, Oladipo can sometimes let all that turbo get out of control and turnovers can be an issue, but he balances that by being an unselfish player looking to get touches on cuts and offensive rebounds.  Because he rarely takes bad shots, he shot a ridiculous 60 percent from the field in 36 games last season. 

He’s going to get you up to 2.0 steals per game, a half a block, probably just under a three and he’ll be a plus rebounder for your squad – without hurting you anywhere else at the shooting guard position.  He reminds me of Nicolas Batum from 2011-12 but with a bit less 3-point shooting and a little bit more everywhere else.  Batum was a top 40-50 per-game value that year, and with very little depth to challenge him in Orlando and every reason for them to play the rookie, Oladipo is staring down the barrel of 30+ mpg even if Arron Afflalo is around.  I don’t know how wise it is expecting top 40-50 value from him in his rookie year, but I like his chances at top-75 value in a reasonable upside scenario. 

Recommendation:  As the Magic’s roster is constructed right now, I’m not letting Oladipo slip out of the top-100 picks. 

3. Otto Porter, Georgetown – SF – Wizards

There are some that didn’t like Porter as the No. 3 pick in the draft due to a perceived lack of upside, similarly to the way James Harden and Bradley Beal weren’t exactly making headlines in past years.  Porter is a polished product at just 20 years of age, with the ability to shoot the three and work in the post, not to mention run sets and direct the offense. 

Not the most athletic player in the draft, his lack of footspeed has some concerned that he won’t be able to defend super-athletic 3s in the NBA, but make no mistake he is an above-average defensive player.  He also rebounds well (7.5 rpg) for his position and racked up 1.8 steals and 0.9 blocks per game last season for Georgetown.  His pull-up game needs work and in Georgetown’s system he didn’t run much pick-and-roll, a staple of the NBA game, but there’s little doubt about his ability to pick it up with his high basketball IQ. 

Outside of Victor Oladipo, he was the safest pick among the first five players drafted, and he steps into a Washington situation custom-made for him despite the presence of Trevor Ariza and potentially Martell Webster.  He has the defensive ability to justify his place on the floor, and his 3-point shooting is the guarantor for his playing time.  The Wizards’ trio of John Wall, Beal and Porter should be fun to watch.  25 mpg early in the year and then 35 mpg as the season goes on are relative locks. 

With the potential for versatile fantasy numbers, albeit with the understanding that he’ll be third or fourth in line for touches, Potter could easily best Beal’s late-round per-game values from last year with a comparative advantage in rebounding and defensive stats.

Recommendation:  He should be owned in all leagues and you’ll probably need an early-late round pick to get it done, with mid-round upside as the best-case scenario owners should be targeting. 

4. Cody Zeller, Indiana – C – Bobcats

Zeller turned a few heads getting selected at No. 4 by the Bobcats, especially with Nerlens Noel and Alex Len still on the board, but solid combine numbers and a relatively safe value proposition drove the sophomore up the board. 

The knocks on him include the lack of a jumper and some concern that his physical skills won’t fully translate in the NBA, setting aside the best standing vertical leap (35.5”) for a player 6’9” or taller in the last 10 years.  He doesn’t have a problem getting out in transition and he’s a fundamentally sound player, but his lack of toughness and strength makes his defense suffer and it’s unclear how much it will affect his rebounding and inside play. 

That said, he has solid shooting mechanics to build off of and better spacing in the NBA could easily make him a proficient inside-out player.  In fantasy leagues he’s not going to wow you with his blocks or steals, but he should be good for some decent scoring and rebounding numbers – and he won’t hurt you anywhere percentage-wise.  Playing for one of the thinnest teams in the league up-front, he should be a lock for an increasing 25-35 mpg and provide sustainable low-end value with very mild upside.

Recommendation:  Should be owned in all but the shallowest of leagues and all Dynasty formats, with owners targeting him in the middle of the late rounds pending his preseason updates. 

5. Alex Len, Maryland – C – Suns

Len was one of the many players the Cavs said they were interested in at No. 1, so it was a relative disappointment for him to drop all the way to No. 5.  On the other hand, the Suns have to be fairly happy that he fell this far to him, as it gives them the immediate ability to put Marcin Gortat on the trade block.  It’s hard to say what exactly happened with Gortat last year, but neither side was happy with the other and eventually Len will have the center position all to himself. 

Standing 7’1/255 with good athleticism, the only real complaints for Len are a lack of intensity at times on defense and a general lack of experience that exposes small flaws that one might expect to see in a 20-year old.  He is otherwise capable of scoring from inside and also with a short-range jumper, and he has plenty of skill that will limit his downside as a center prospect. 

Strength, quickness and footwork are all issues he needs to address, but beyond Gortat there is nobody remotely close to stealing his playing time.  It’s conceivable that he starts with 25 mpg right away, and a full load could be right around the corner if the Suns can find a taker for Gortat.  Len’s college numbers aren’t going to jump off the page at you, and they were somewhat deflated because of poor play by teammates.  He is a reasonable bet to put up low-end numbers after the first-third or first-half of the year, with a nice dash of upside in the event Gortat leaves. 

Recommendation:  Worth a strong look in the late rounds of standard drafts while Gortat’s future is unknown, and he should be owned in all Dynasty leagues as the team’s center of the future.

6. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky – PF/C – Sixers (from Pelicans)

The drop of Nerlens Noel was one of the larger subplots of Thursday’s draft, and one that will likely be debated for some time amongst fans of any of the teams picking in the top-6 slots, as well as the Sixers who ended up trading for him.  Andrew Bynum is all but kicked out of Philly after he rubbed the organization wrong with his antics, and that means when Noel gets back on the floor in November or December he’ll have all the room he needs to grow.  And growing is what he needs to do, as anything other than defense and dunking is a major problem area he needs to develop. 

That said, he runs like a guard in a 6’10/206 body and posted 2.1 steals and 4.4 blocks per game for Kentucky last year – which are simply insane numbers and any relative duplication of them will float at least late-round value.  The problems for Noel in fantasy leagues will be pedestrian field goal percentage for a big man, awful 50 percent free throw shooting and a lack of scoring.  Add it all up, though, and there’s enough upside to justify a roster slot despite his shortcomings. 

Recommendation:  Should be owned in all but the shallowest of leagues and owned in all Dynasty leagues, and targeted in the later rounds with an eye on his timetable for return. 

7. Ben McLemore, Kansas – SG – Kings

It’s been quite a first-half of the calendar year for Kings fans, who endured an attempt by Seattle to steal their team and that finished up years of torture under the Maloof family.  Instead of the ultimate loss they got the ultimate gain with a visionary front office motivated to contend, and all of a sudden Sacramento isn’t such a bad place to play anymore.  Things got better on Thursday night when their target, a guy they were thinking about trading up for, fell to them at No. 7 at no additional cost. 

McLemore, thought by many to be the best two-way player in the draft, could end up being the steal of the draft along with Trey Burke to the Jazz at No. 9.  The freshman hears smaller complaints from scouts about his game, including less pick-and-roll production than NBA folks would like, a sporadic lack of intensity, and some were thrown off by some off-the-court issues, too.  Some are whispering that he could use better representation. 

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive loves him, however, as he embraces the egos of those that can back it up – and McLemore certainly looks like he can.  Fantasy-wise, his defensive and rebounding numbers aren’t going to wow you, but everything else is right where owners want it.  He’ll be stuck in a log-jam until the Kings figure out what to do with Marcus Thornton and more importantly, Tyreke Evans, who look less and less like they’re in the team’s future with each passing day – though it’s still too early to make a call on that. 

In any event, McLemore will be on the floor for the Kings early in the year, with 20-25 minutes a solid bet early on and by the end of the year that will probably look like 28-32 mpg.  That’s good enough for late round value with mid-round upside, though you may have to plan for some lean months early on in standard leagues. 

Recommendation: Should be owned in all but the shallowest of leagues, and targeted in the early-late rounds while the log-jam is still in play. 

8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia – SG – Pistons

Detroit fans will constantly compare KCP to Trey Burke, who was selected one pick later by the Jazz and would have given the Pistons their point guard of the future.  Instead, they’re going to roll with Brandon Knight and maybe even Jose Calderon, and given Knight’s slow pickup of the position I don’t know that I’ve gone the same way. 

KCP has a solid shooting stroke and good size at 6’5/204, with the athleticism to project as at least an average defender in the NBA.  The big area of concern for him is his ability to put the ball on the ground and finish, and he still needs seasoning on both ends of the floor.  Not having elite athleticism, he can be covered effectively by larger players and how his game translates to the NBA level is a mild question mark. 

Calderon and Rodney Stuckey are nowhere near locks to be with the team this year, but even if they are the Pistons lack depth in the backcourt and KCP is just versatile enough to be a relative lock for 20-30 mpg and the chance at much more if the aforementioned guys leave Detroit.  With no real weaknesses in fantasy categories and above average rebounding for a guard, his fantasy ‘floor’ is relatively strong assuming one of either Calderon or Stuckey moves on, and Caldwell-Pope gets a nice boost from being a top-3 option in the offense from the moment he enters the gym. 

Recommendation:  Should be owned in all leagues barring a dreadful preseason combined with Detroit retaining or adding starter-quality shooting guards.  He could range from a late-middle round target to a late-round target depending on who stays and who goes. 

9. Trey Burke, Michigan – PG – Jazz (from Wolves)

Deep in the heart of this draft’s sweet spot, Burke saw his draft position drop due to concerns about his size at 6’1/187, his sometimes sub-standard effort on defense and his finishing ability, but it was hard to find anybody in draft land that thought he couldn’t overcome those issues.  On the defensive end, the complaints were somewhat benign, as he got stuck to screens and sometimes let his guard down, but with the load he was carrying on offense those issues are forgivable to an extent. 

Every other aspect of his game is primed to give him All-Star potential, and unless the Jazz decide they want to bring back Mo Williams or add another veteran point guard from a thin free agent group, Burke is going to have free reign to run wild in his first year on the job.   Outside of advantages in scoring and free throw shooting, Damian Lillard’s numbers from his last year in Weber St. look a lot like Burke’s, and when one considers the differences in his teammates and schedule there’s no reason why Burke can’t have a Lillard-like campaign. 

That, of course, was a Rookie of the Year campaign and he is my leader in the clubhouse for that award this year – if Ty Corbin gives him the ball and gets (free agent Al Jefferson) out of the way.  Lillard’s top 40-50 value on a per-game basis last season is within Burke’s reach, but (decreasing) concerns about the Jazz retaining Jefferson and Corbin’s inability to maximize his team’s potential might have me rating the Michigan point guard in the 50-70 range just to be safe. 

Recommendation:  Burke is a must-own player unless the Jazz add a point guard, and at this early juncture owners can start looking at him toward the end of the early rounds, but preferably in the early-middle rounds.

10. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – PG/SG – Blazers

McCollum’s name was kicked around as high as No. 7 with the Kings, and the Blazers had to be thrilled when they saw him available at No. 10.  A combo guard that can truly play both positions, he brings a polish to both sides of the floor that makes him one of the safer selections in this year’s draft. He can shoot, pass, and defend, with the only real knock against him being a lack of elite explosion to defend larger/quicker players – which he will be asked to do playing as the likely swing guard behind Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews. 

Being a backup shouldn’t keep him off the floor, however, as the Blazers are paper thin and will likely use plenty of small lineups to ensure that all of the aforementioned players in addition to Nicolas Batum get maximum exposure.  With no real weaknesses to his fantasy game, a 20-minute role in a dynamic, up-tempo offense could threaten for late-round value and the more likely scenario has him seeing upwards of 30 mpg as the year goes on.  Also boasting great intangibles, McCollum should continue to improve and all of that adds up to a solid fantasy ‘floor’ and a nice bit of upside given the dearth of talent in Portland. 

Recommendation:  Worth owning in most, if not all leagues unless reports surprisingly turn south in the preseason.  The middle of the late rounds is probably a good start. 

11. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse – PG – Sixers

Carter-Williams reminds me of a better version of Suns backup PG Kendall Marshall, who possessed superior passing skills but because of the lack of an outside attack he cannot keep defenses honest.  Luckily MCW appears to have better ability to get his own shot, though his shot selection and shot-making ability are right on par with his outside touch. 

His shooting form isn’t broken like new teammate Evan Turner’s was upon entering the league, and his ability to take the reins and lead the suddenly PG-devoid Sixers will hinge on whether or not he can make big strides in that area (in particular playing with guys like Turner, Thaddeus Young and Nerlens Noel who don’t spread the floor). 

On the other side of the floor he is a willing and able defender with well-above average steals potential after nabbing 2.8 of them per game last year for the Orangemen.  With nobody to press him for minutes on the roster other than Turner, the Sixers will need to add a veteran in free agency or simply give MCW the keys and let him go.  He’ll give owners solid assists, steals and blocks, but his shooting and scoring troubles are very likely to depress his value. 

Recommendation:  Worth a late-round selection in standard formats if the Sixers don’t add anybody to compete with him

12. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh – C – Thunder

Adams is a classic center project boasting great size (6’11/255) and athleticism for a big man, with checkmarks up and down the list of things he needs to improve (44 percent foul shooting, anyone?).  Things like catching the ball and simple footwork are big issues for him on offense, and despite his size he still loses position on the defensive glass and in the offensive post. 

Defensively, however, he’s a blocking machine averaging 3.7 swats per 40 minutes and he’s much better on the offensive glass due to his size/speed combo.  He can run the floor and defensively he can switch and show on the pick-and-roll.  A late bloomer, Adams saw just 23 minutes per game last year as a freshman, a reflection of how raw he is.  There are questions about his intensity and basketball IQ is a problem.  While Kendrick Perkins is a liability on both sides of the floor for the Thunder, the team has attached themselves to that anchor and is somewhere near the center of the earth. 

Adams is a good add for them to give them some added presence down low, but expecting him to produce anything but a handful of blocks and boards in limited minutes this year is probably asking for too much, especially since he still has to beat out Hasheem Thabeet for backup duties. 

Recommendation:  Worth a look in super-deep Dynasty formats

13. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga – C – Celtics (from Mavs)

Olynyk took nice steps forward in his time at Gonzaga, improving his physique at 7’0/239 while incrementally improving his post-up game along the way.  Skilled for a big man, he does his best work as the roll man and finisher on the interior.  When asked to shoot from mid-range, he has shown surprising ability to hit though nobody will accuse him of being a threat outside.  The most disappointing part of his game is his rebounding and shot-blocking as a big man, which obviously hurts his fantasy stock, but his 78 percent free throw shooting on 5.4 attempts per game and 63 percent mark from the field will help ease the sting. 

A serviceable post game, good handles and knack for moving to open space are all reasons he can be serviceable on offense at the NBA level, but against smarter defenders he might have trouble without a go-to post move.  His defensive shortcomings will ultimately be the issue that determines his minutes, but the fact that he will be the Celtics’ only true center means that he could have a longer leash.  With the expected tank job coming out of Boston they’ll have every incentive to play him as long as he’s not a liability.  He reminds me a lot of Tyler Zeller going into Cleveland’s shallow frontcourt last season, and we all saw how that turned out. 

Recommendation:  Worth a look in deep redraft leagues and worth owning in deep Dynasty formats

14. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA – SG/SF – Wolves (from Jazz)

Easily the most polarizing first round draft pick, the former No. 1 high school player disappointed at UCLA and never got on the same page with Ben Howland.  Shot selection issues and in-between the ears stuff has been blasted onto everybody’s radar, and there is some question about how his game will translate to the pros. 

The good news is that he already has an NBA body and his athleticism gives him a fighting chance to prove all the doubters wrong.  He improved his jumpshot, which is still inconsistent, and he also improved his defense throughout the year, which he will also need to improve if he’s going to defend starting small forwards on a regular basis. 

Flip Saunders and Co. admitted to have been surprised by the way the draft went down and said afterward that they didn’t get what they were looking for, which was more outside shooting and size on the wing.  Saunders also said that he views Muhammad as a backup, but if Andrei Kirilenko opts out of his player option on Saturday and the team cannot re-sign Chase Budinger they could be looking at Shabazz as a fall-back option. 

The one thing he can do is score, and while it’s doubtful they unleash him in full, even if there is a gaping hole to be filled, there is a reasonable chance he averages 20-30 mpg this season barring an implosion.  Unfortunately his shooting numbers and peripherals don’t profile all that well.  Even in an up-tempo offense next to Ricky Rubio he might have a hard time overcoming that to hold any real value in most formats. 

Recommendation:  Worth a look in deep leagues if Andrei Kirilenko walks and worth a look in deep Dynasty leagues, regardless, for the chance he can learn a thing or two from Rick Adelman. 

15. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greece – F – Bucks

The most interesting ‘name’ in the draft may also be the most enigmatic player, too.  Antetokounmpo, 18 years old, stands at 6’9/196 with hands the size of Kawhi Leonard’s and he’s still growing.  Playing in Greece he commonly plays multiple positions, handling the ball and using the unique benefits his size and athleticism bring to the table, all the while simultaneously highlighting his inexperience. 

He has shown the ability to make outside shots, but his form and consistency are definitely an issue and he’s the prototypical definition of raw.  Though he’s athletic, he’s not yet refined as his balance and leaping ability haven’t yet taken form, as he needs to develop better lower body strength and otherwise fill out. 

The interesting thing about this project is that he lands in Milwaukee where Mike Dunleavy could be on his way out and nobody knows what Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has left in the tank.  The Bucks themselves are in a bit of turmoil deciding on the future of RFA Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis looks to be a goner.  The Bucks have a good amount of cap room and it makes sense that they retain a veteran small forward or two so Antetokounmpo can develop, but don’t tell that to the rookie, who has no interest in being stashed overseas. 

Overall there’s very little to bank on statistically, except that he will likely produce solid defensive stats if given the minutes.  If I have to bet right now on his playing time this season, I’d have a hard time lifting him above 20 mpg in a best-case scenario. 

Recommendation:  Worth a look in deep Dynasty leagues as long as he is in contention for a rotation slot and the Bucks haven’t added a bona fide starting small forward.

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